The Benefits of the Internationalisation of Higher Education

by: in General

The internationalisation of higher education (IoHE) relates to sensitive topics of public concern. Considering the ongoing debate in the Netherlands regarding the challenges related to the internationalisation of higher education, it is time to take a step back and remember the many benefits as identified by the existing academic literature.

International students around the world and in the Netherlands
Migration for education is not a new phenomenon. As the number of individuals enrolled in higher education increased, so did the number of international students. To be precise, the absolute number of international students enrolled in higher education world-wide increased from 0.8 million to 4.6 million between 1975 and 2015. The share of international students, however, remained relatively stable over time.



(OECD - Figure C4.a. Long-term growth in foreign
enrolment in tertiary education worldwide, 1975-2015)
(Click here to view a larger image)

According to EP Nuffic, around 90,000 international students were enrolled in Dutch higher education degree programmes in the academic year 2017/18, excluding students, who came to the Netherlands for parts of their degrees only (e.g. semester abroad). While programmes at universities of applied sciences (HBO) are rarely taught in English, research universities (WO) teach 23% of bachelor and 74% at master level exclusively in English. In addition, 12% of bachelor and 11% of master programmes are taught in multiple languages. One should note, that this does not apply to all fields of study. In particular, programmes that are directly linked to the domestic labour market like health care, law and education are mostly taught in Dutch.



(EP Nuffic - Incoming student mobility in Dutch higher education 2017-2018 -
Visual 1: Total number of international degree students in the Netherlands over time)
Click here to see a larger image)


What is in it for whom?
Various stakeholders can benefit from the internationalisation of higher education, including international and domestic students, higher education institutions (HEIs), companies, home and host countries.

Studying abroad is a way for students to gain international experience and to develop both personally as well as professionally, for instance, by getting to know different cultures, improving language skills and developing a more cosmopolitan identity. In addition, it can be a strategy to improve one’s career prospects, especially if the required knowledge and skills cannot be obtained in the student’s home country. International classrooms lead to improved learning outcomes, foster intercultural skills and create international networks preparing both international and domestic students for living and working in a globalised world.

Higher Education Institutions
HEIs can benefit from the IoHE both financially and academically. In the context of declining financial contributions of governments, international students (from outside the EU) are an additional funding opportunity. Moreover, internationalisation can improve HEI’s reputation and the quality of education programmes because of increased international competition for the best students and academics. In addition, attracting international students is vital for many HEIs to survive, especially in countries where the population of young adults is expected to decline drastically in the coming decades.

Host Countries
Host countries can benefit from the IoHE economically. In the short term, international students bring additional revenue through general living expenses. In the long term, international students can add to the domestic pool of highly-skilled workers and thereby help strengthening the domestic knowledge economy. This is especially important for countries that experience demographic change, negative population developments and growing skills shortages. EP Nuffic estimates that international students who stay in the Netherlands contribute €1.57 billion to the Dutch economy each year. International students who do not remain living in the host countries can become ambassadors for HEIs and the industry of the country in which they studied which can contribute to international cooperation and trade.

Despite the benefits of the IoHE, many challenges remain. For instance, international students are confronted with many challenges upon arrival in the host country, including issues of adjustment, integration, discrimination, financial costs, restricted access to the labour market and other administrative and legal hurdles. If these can be dealt with, the benefits for all stakeholders will increase even more.

Author: Julia Reinold

Julia Reinold is a PhD Candidate at Expertise Centre ITEM (Institute for Transnational and Euregional cross border cooperation and Mobility / ITEM)  under guidance of prof. dr. Melissa Siegel and Dr. Mariska van der Giessen and is part of the Migration Research Group at the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance/ UNU-MERIT specialising in research on highly-skilled migration.

Read more about her research at Expertise Centre ITEM:
• Understanding the decision of international migrants to stay or leave the Euroregion

Also read the article she wrote for the Dutch Association for United Nations on April 25th, 2018:
‘Migration and education: international student mobility’

Image source: Wikimedia

  • J. Reinold

    Julia Reinold is a postdoctoral researcher at Studio Europa Maastricht and a member of the Maastricht Centre for Citizenship, Migration and Development (MACIMIDE). Her current research examines social categorisations in the field of migration and how they impact migrants’ lives and opportunities.

    More articles from J. Reinold