The Internationalization Committee: Strategies for Success
By Robin Matross Helms, Senior Research Specialist at ACE
For many institutions, a first step in the internationalization process is to establish a committee charged with developing a plan and advising senior leadership on strategy and implementation. ACE's Mapping Internationalization on U.S. Campuses study found that in 2011, 44% of institutions included in the study had a campus-wide committee or task force that worked solely on advancing institution-wide internationalization. Because of their integral role in getting the process off the ground, the effectiveness of such committees can make or break the success of internationalization efforts.
When an internationalization committee is established haphazardly with little attention paid to composition, objectives, and procedures, it may spin its wheels, and produce recommendations that are more likely to languish on a shelf than result in any real change. Conversely, a well-designed committee, composed of stakeholders from across campus, that has clearly defined goals, efficient operating procedures, and a solid communication strategy, can make substantial progress in a relatively short period of time, develop a coherent strategy and plan for moving forward, and create a solid foundation for continuing internationalization efforts throughout the institution.
Fortunately, given their popularity, it is not necessary for institutions to reinvent the wheel in figuring out how to create an effective internationalization committee. The following steps for establishing and running a successful internationalization committee are based on the experiences and recommendations of a variety of institutions that have engaged such committees in the past or are currently working with them successfully, including a number of participants in ACE's Internationalization Laboratory and Internationalization Collaborative programs.
Juniata College’s Intercultural Learning Assessment Committee – one of the institution’s three internationalization-focused committees
Step #1: Start with the Short Term
In general, campus internationalization committees take two primary forms: ad-hoc committees with a limited lifespan, or long-term, standing committees whose work continues indefinitely. Short-term internationalization committees are well-positioned to assess the current state of internationalization on campus and provide recommendations based on this assessment to inform an internationalization strategy and plan going forward. A long-term committee, in contrast, may be charged with overseeing implementation of the internationalization plan, setting initial goals and establishing new goals as they are accomplished, assessing progress, and correcting course if necessary. In general, short-term committees advise, whereas long-term committees implement.
Because the objectives and tasks of short- and long-term committees are often very different, the specific background and skills required of members vary greatly as well, and it should not be assumed that a short-term committee will (or should) naturally evolve into a long-term committee. For many institutions that have participated in the Internationalization Laboratory program, a two-step approach has proven useful. A short-term committee is appointed first, generally for a term of 16 months to two years – long enough for the committee to accomplish key tasks, but a short enough timeframe that a focused, efficient schedule is required. At the end of this period, institutional leaders and committee members can assess next steps, determine if a longer-term committee makes sense, and if so, decide what should be accomplished and who should be involved.
Step #2: Issue a Well-Designed Committee Charge
The committee charge is the document that formally creates the internationalization committee, sets forth its purpose and goals, and outlines the parameters of its activities. In order to convey the message that internationalization is a strategic priority for the institution and that top leadership is on board, the charge should be issued by the president or provost, with approval by the faculty senate or other stakeholders in accordance with institutional policy or standard operating procedures. Making the charge public ensures that the entire institution knows about the committee's work and its importance.
The committee charge should include:
- Statement of purpose. An introduction should emphasize the importance of internationalization, and explain why the committee is being formed and what it is expected to accomplish.
- Activities. Committee activities should be outlined with sufficient specificity to get set clear expectations, but enough flexibility to allow the committee to take on additional tasks or refocus its efforts as the process unfolds. For institutions just beginning a formalized internationalization process, a key initial activity should be to conduct an "internationalization assessment," which includes gathering information and conducting research (surveys, focus groups, program evaluations, etc.), reviewing policies and procedures, and communicating effectively about internationalization initiatives in order to gain buy-in from campus stakeholders.
- Timeframe. The committee should be given enough time to fulfill its purpose, but specifying an end date ensures it will not linger beyond its usefulness, and helps the committee determine a schedule and work plan. As noted above, an initial time frame of 16 months to two years is generally sufficient for the committee to conduct its assessment and make its recommendations for implementation.
- Deliverables. At the least, the committee should produce a final report, submitted to the provost or president, that includes information from the internationalization assessment, recommendations for moving forward, and possibly, a formalized internationalization plan. Interim reports and/or presentations may also help to further engage leadership and keep the committee on track. See Step #5 below for examples of final reports.
Importantly, the charge should specify that the committee has the power to collect information as part of its review of the current status of internationalization and in order to inform decision-making. Relevant units and offices (e.g. admissions, institutional research) should be required to provide data as requested.
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Step #3: Engage the Right People
At many institutions, internationally-focused activities are seen as the purview of the international programs' office or another designated unit. In order for broader internationalization to take hold and proceed campus-wide, however, this mindset must change. To this end, the internationalization committee should include representation from across the campus, and skilled communicators who will effectively convey the importance of internationalization and gain the buy-in of their colleagues. In compiling the committee membership, institutions should aim for:
- Not too few, not too many.In order to achieve this broad representation, the number of committee members will necessarily vary depending on the size of the institution. Among participants in the Internationalization Laboratory program, committees have ranged from six members (at a small liberal arts college) to 43 (at a large research institution). Generally 12-15 is a good number – it allows for wide representation, but avoids becoming unwieldy. At large institutions where this is not sufficient to achieve adequate representation from across the campus, official committee members might convene sub-committees to deal with particular issues or areas – more details on subcommittees are outlined in Step #4 below.
- Multiple perspectives, different levels. The committee should be comprised of faculty, administrators, and possibly student representatives if this is consistent with the institution's culture and typical procedures. Faculty should represent a variety of fields and ranks, though the time commitment required should be considered for non-tenured faculty. Administrators should be selected carefully based on their job areas and specific skills; while it is certainly important to include the Senior International Officer if such a position exists, representatives from other units are needed to ensure buy-in campus-wide. While newer, more junior administrators provide "fresh eyes," and are likely to be attuned to the practicalities of the committee's recommendations, seasoned senior staff who have a thorough understanding of the institution's history and culture are well positioned to think about the "big picture" and aligning internationalization efforts with broader institutional strategy.
In addition to faculty, staff, and student representatives, Fielding Graduate University included an alumnus and a trustee on its internationalization committee, each of whom was carefully selected based on particular background and expertise, and potential to bring a unique perspective to the group.
- Not just the "usual suspects." It may be tempting for institutions to rely on the "usual suspects" in composing the internationalization committee, i.e. those faculty and administrators who are consistent and outspoken advocates for international activities and engagement. While one or two such individuals can make useful contributions to the committee – particularly if they participate in school- or unit-level internationalization committees or activities – it is important to include others who can provide a different perspective, may be less invested in a particular outcome or direction, and can serve as new voices in communicating the importance of internationalization to key stakeholders. For example, including a star researcher may help ensure careful consideration of research-related issues in internationalization, and the recipient of an institution-wide teaching award can potentially help the committee navigate issues in the teaching and learning realm. Both are likely to be well respected by their peers, and can serve as powerful voices for internationalization.
- Carefully selected chairs. As part of the member selection process, a committee chair or chairs should be designated to provide general oversight, take responsibility for steering the committee's work and guiding its meetings, and serve as a liaison between the committee and senior leadership. Leadership skills are key in this role, as are the ability to communicate effectively and a track record of effective project management. If more than one chair is selected, a duo of one faculty member and one administrator will ensure that multiple perspectives are represented. If just one chair is appointed, selecting a faculty member or administrator other than the Senior International Officer or equivalent can help reinforce the message that internationalization is a campus-wide endeavor, and not just the purview of a single unit or office that is designated as "international."
In terms of assembling the committee, among participants in the Internationalization Laboratory and Internationalization Collaborative, appointment by the president or provost is the most common means of selecting internationalization committee members. Deans and department chairs should be consulted about potential candidates, including their work loads and other time commitments that might impact their ability to contribute effectively to the committee.
At some institutions, however, a "call for volunteers" may be more consistent with institutional culture than appointment by senior leadership. Some institutions also rely on a hybrid model, appointing some of the committee members, and selecting the rest via a call for volunteers.
Villanova University's Call for Volunteers
Upon joining ACE's Internationalization Laboratory in 2012, Villanova University opted to recruit members for its internationalization committee via an institution-wide call for volunteers. Dr. Susan Mackey-Kallis, Associate Professor of Communication, who was charged with drafting the call, notes a few reasons for this decision:
- Recruiting volunteers, rather than appointing committee members, for a project of this nature was consistent with Villanova's campus culture, which emphasizes community involvement and bottom-up decision-making.
- The call itself served as an excellent preliminary PR mechanism, by which the goals for the committee, and the importance of its work and of internationalization more broadly, were conveyed to the campus community. Such widespread publicity helped generate interest and encourage buy-in by faculty, staff, students, and other stakeholders.
- Because there were more volunteers than slots available on the committee, the call resulted in a deep and broad list of potential members for specialized subcommittees.
As is reflected in Villanova's call for volunteers, Dr. Mackey-Kallis cautions that it should be made clear to potential volunteers that expressing their interest does not guarantee a spot on the committee. In order to mitigate hurt feelings and potential disappointment among those who were not selected, at Villanova everyone who responded to the call received a personalized message thanking them for their interest, and if necessary, explaining why they were not chosen to participate.
Villanova's Call for Volunteers
Though international committee work may be viewed as a part of faculty members' service duty to the institution, in some cases it may be appropriate to provide financial or other incentives for committee members. For example, a faculty member on an academic year contract may receive a salary supplement if summer work is required. Faculty members who serve as the committee chair or take on particularly heavy workloads may need a course release. Such incentives can help make participation possible for key faculty members, and also send a message about the priority placed on internationalization efforts.
Finally, if funding is available, it is useful to create a graduate assistant position to support the work of the committee, particularly in terms of gathering and managing information for the internationalization assessment. Such a position not only facilitates the efficient work of the committee, but also provides an excellent professional development opportunity for a graduate student in higher education administration, international education, or a related field.
ACE conducted a survey of participants in its Internationalization Collaborative program in order to investigate trends and common practices for internationalization committees. Responses were collected from community colleges, baccalaureate institutions, master's institutions, and doctoral institutions, with the largest number coming from doctoral institutions. Results included:
- Of responding institutions, 83% currently have an internationalization committee in place. At 88% of these institutions, the committee is a long-term standing entity, rather than a short-term committee.
- Number of committee members ranged from less than five to more than 20. A majority of committees (61%) have between 5 and 15 members.
- For a majority of committees appointment of members was done by the provost (55%), or by recruiting volunteers (36%). However modes of appointment varied substantially, and also included:
- Appointment by the president, senior international officer, or deans.
- Election by academic units or the faculty senate.
- A combination of appointment and volunteering.
- Most committees have one (62%) or two (29%) chairs. Only a handful of have no official chairs, or three or more chairs.
- Just over half (51%) of the committees represented in the survey have subcommittees. The number of subcommittees varied from one to more than 10, but in most cases fell in the 1-3 range. Focus areas for the subcommittees include:
- Study abroad
- New international partnership proposals
- Faculty development
- Grant/project proposal review
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Step #4: Establish Effective Operating Procedures
At its first meeting, the internationalization committee's primary task should be to establish a set of operating procedures that will serve as a framework for its activities. Key issues to address include:
- How often will the committee meet? Institutions that participate in the Internationalization Laboratory are required to meet at least once a month, often more frequently at the beginning. Because schedules fill up early, committee members should bring their calendars to the first meeting and block off meeting dates and times for the duration of the project.
- Are subcommittees needed? As committees map out their work plan and determine who will do what, it may make sense to establish subcommittees or working groups to handle particular tasks – particularly for large committees at large institutions where a division of labor is necessary to manage the scale of the project. If subcommittees are established, issues to consider are whether to include ad hoc members who are not part of the main committee, and if so how to select them, as well as how often the subcommittees will meet and how they will interact with and regularly report their progress back to the main committee. Deadlines for the subcommittees' work should also be established.
- How will the committee communicate between meetings? For many committees, simply communicating by phone and email may be sufficient. Still, the committee should discuss protocol for such communication, e.g. who should be cc'd on emails? Do the chairs need to be included in all communication? Some institutions have also tried to streamline communication through the use of project management and group communication tools.
When Brown University's internationalization committee began its work in 2006, a technology-savvy faculty member set up a Wiki to facilitate communication. Committee members report that the Wiki was used extensively in the beginning of the project, and facilitated the merging of two subcommittees into one more effective entity. Though use of the Wiki tapered off as the committee's work progressed, members note that it may have been a little "ahead of its time," and they would still recommend Wiki use for other internationalization committees seeking an efficient means of communication.
Brown's internationalization committee website and a link to the Wiki.
Step #5: Focus on Communication
A key piece of the internationalization committee's role is to communicate the importance of internationalization to the campus community, report on its findings and recommendations, and gain buy-in from stakeholders for implementation.Venues for doing so include:
- Status updates and reports for senior leadership. In addition to its final written report (and an interim report if requested by the provost or other top administrator), the committee might consider periodic in-person briefings or presentations to discuss progress and any challenges encountered, and ensure that leadership stays engaged and updated on the process. Such presentations might be open to other administrators, particularly those who are likely to be instrumental in implementation.
- An "elevator speech." In terms of the campus community more broadly, committee members will interact with many stakeholders in the process of conducting their assessment and formulating recommendations, and should be prepared to "make the case" for internationalization through meetings and informal interactions. Developing a concise, to-the-point "elevator speech" for committee members to use in person or as part of email communication will ensure a consistent message from the committee, and explanation of its efforts.
- Town Hall meetings. More broadly, some institutions hold town hall-type meetings to discuss the project and allow stakeholders to ask questions – either as part of the internationalization assessment, or following the release of the committee's final report.
Putting the "Town" in Town Hall: The University of Wyoming
Many internationalization committees hold "town hall" meetings for an on-campus audience. However for the University of Wyoming, "town" was more literal; while participating in the Internationalization Laboratory program, the UW internationalization committee held a series of public meetings and focus groups in cities around the state, in order to publicize the institution's internationalization efforts, gather community input, and expand their stakeholder base.
As the only public, four-year institution in the state, UW's mission includes a strong outreach component, key goals of which include working collaboratively with the community college system, and serving the local economy and population. Reflecting this focus, actively engaging the public was an important part of the institution's internationalization strategy.
The town hall events consisted of a presentation and status update by leaders of the internationalization committee, followed by an open discussion. The topics covered varied substantially based on who was in the audience, and included:
- An improved process for sharing information on internationalization efforts with community colleges and local communities
- Potential partnerships with institutions abroad in specific geographic areas
- Support for international students
- Conveying the importance of international engagement to state government officials
Download documents from the University of Wyoming's town hall meetings and focus groups, including a schedule and locations, promotion materials, and a summary of findings.
- Website. Some institutions create a publicly accessible website where the committee charge is posted, along with the final report and other relevant documents. Some websites post only the committee charge and membership, while others are updated consistently with documents such as meeting minutes. Issues to consider in establishing such a website are what content should be public (and should there be a section accessible only to committee members), and who will keep the website updated.
Internationalization committee websites
Committee Management: A Provost's Perspective
When the University of North Carolina at Greensboro formed an internationalization committee in 2010 as part of its participation in ACE's Internationalization Laboratory program, Provost David Perrin took great care to appoint a well-rounded committee with broad representation from the campus and two highly effective co-chairs. But then, he reports, he "got out of the way." While Dr. Perrin met with the committee's co-chairs every few weeks for progress updates, he did not attend meetings and allowed the committee to apply its expertise and carry out its charge on its own.
According to Dr. Perrin, his primary roles as Provost in terms of committee management were to:
- Facilitate communication between the committee and key stakeholders, such as the faculty senate and deans' council.
- Convey and reinforce the importance of UNC Greensboro's internationalization initiatives publicly to the campus community. For example, announcing the members of the committee and outlining their charge was a key focus of Dr. Perrin's fall 2011 convocation speech, and the committee's final recommendations were featured prominently in his convocation speech in 2012.
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Step #6: Plan for the Long Term
The short-term internationalization committee has completed its work on schedule, delivered its final report to the provost, and reached the end of the term specified in its original charge. So now what?
One possibility is that the committee will simply be disbanded – having received its recommendations, the provost may feel ready to turn to a broader corps of administrators and faculty to move forward with implementation. If sufficient infrastructure is already in place, with appropriate staffing to manage all aspects of implementation, further involvement by the committee or another body may not be necessary.
Among institutions that have participated in the Internationalization Laboratory, however, nearly all have transitioned to a long-term internationalization committee to pick up where the initial committee leaves off. In most cases, although some members of the ad-hoc committee may be tapped to serve for the long term, the committee is reconstituted. In particular, it is important to include administrators and others whose expertise truly is the nuts and bolts of specific aspects of internationalization – international programs, the delivery of the curriculum and co-curriculum, etc. Study abroad advisors, student affairs professionals and others who may not have been part of the internationalization assessment and strategic planning are critical for implementation.
When bringing together a new long-term committee, all the considerations outlined above must be attended to once again, including issuing an effective committee charge, selecting committee members, and establishing committee operating procedures. Additional logistical and procedural issues that must be considered for long-term standing committees include:
- Is the committee advisory or does it have the power to set policy?
- How long will committee members serve? Will they be allowed to renew their terms?
- How are members replaced at the end of their terms, or if someone leaves unexpectedly? How will continuity and "institutional memory" for the committee be ensured?
- How will the committee measure its progress and/or be evaluated? How and how often will it report its progress to institutional leaders and the campus community?
- What other campus groups (e.g. the faculty senate) must the committee collaborate with in order to accomplish its work?
Internationalization committee charges (long-term)
A Tale of Two Transitions: The University of Kentucky and Northern Virginia Community College
Both the University of Kentucky and Northern Virginia Community College started with a short-term internationalization committee, then successfully transitioned to a long-term standing committee. As the following chart illustrates, however, these two very different institutions took different approaches to the transition process and to the overall roles of their long-term committees.
University of Kentucky
Long-term committee composition
Appointment by college deans for renewable 2-year terms
Open membership and meetings. No set term of appointment.
1-2 faculty and/or associate deans from each of 18 colleges, plus key administrators. 25-30 members total.
Faculty from all campuses in the system. Approximately 15-20 attendees at meetings.
Provide input on proposed institution-wide policy changes and initiatives. Members' primary responsibilities are to represent their college interests in making institution-level policy recommendations, and to communicate about committee work with college deans and colleagues.
Spearhead and coordinate system-wide international activities and initiatives, such as faculty development workshops, funding proposals, and integration of international perspectives into the curriculum.
Six standing subcommittees, with additional committees established as needed for specific projects such as writing grant proposals. May include ad hoc members who are not part of the main committee.
Some campuses in the system have their own internationalization committees. Representatives are encouraged to attend both campus meetings and system-wide committee meetings.
Casting a Wider Net: Case Western Reserve University's "Visiting Committee"
After participating in ACE's Internationalization Laboratory in 2010-2011, then moving from a short-term international strategic planning committee to a university-wide advisory council, Case Western Reserve University went one step further to create an internationalization "visiting committee."
Led by David Fleshler, Case Western's Associate Provost for International Affairs, the visiting committee consists of 22 members, a majority of whom graduated from Case Western and are now leaders in their fields – including business, medicine, non-profit foundations, and manufacturing. Committee members are appointed for staggered 3-year terms, and are selected based on their international background and expertise and the varied perspectives they bring to the issue of campus internationalization. In-person meetings are held approximately every nine months, with an additional one or two phone meetings per year.
According to Mr. Fleshler, the visiting committee serves a number of useful purposes:
- Because their expertise lies outside of higher education, committee members can speak to broader trends in internationalization and how the university can best prepare graduates for success in their respective fields.
- As prominent citizens and respected leaders in their fields, committee members' recommendations carry weight with stakeholders inside and outside the institution, and can be helpful in winning over those who are skeptical about the importance of internationalization.
- Given their extensive networks of connections in their fields, committee members are helpful in terms of creating relationships with government and corporate entities in target regions overseas, and in identifying potential donors and other development links for the university's internationalization efforts.
While its contributions are taken seriously and its ideas pursued, Mr. Fleshler notes that the visiting committee is a "policy recommending" body, rather than a "policy setting" entity. Its recommendations are discussed with the broader campus community before any action is taken. Thus far, the committee's primary focus has been to discuss big-picture policy issues, for example what the institution's international presence should look like, in terms of both geography and program type. Though the visiting committee is still relatively new, David Fleshler has found its contributions to be valuable, and anticipates continued success going forward.
Case Western Reserve's Internationalization Visiting Committee website
(includes a list of current committee members)
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Step #7 (or maybe Step #1): Participate in the Internationalization Laboratory
While forming an internationalization committee can certainly be an important step towards internationalization, the committee can only be successful if its work is part of a broader effort to advance and support internationalization on campus. On-going strategic planning and creating an institutional culture that values international work are key elements of this process.
For institutions that are just beginning to internationalize, as well as those seeking to move toward deeper, more comprehensive and strategic internationalization, ACE's Internationalization Laboratory program can jump-start the process. Working with a cohort of 8-10 institutions around the U.S., participants receive extensive coaching from ACE senior staff and other experts in the field as they set their internationalization goals and establish a plan for accomplishing them. Significant attention is given to the role of the internationalization committee, and participants benefit from sharing good practices with their peers, as well as the expertise and resources of past Lab participants. The program also includes a peer review visit, which can help committee members assess their progress and refine their recommendations.
"Our team has learned so much during the Internationalization Laboratory process, both through the materials that we gathered from ACE and through the deeper knowledge we have gained about our own terrain in terms of internationalization. The Strategic Plan for Internationalization is the first such plan for our institution, and thus a document of practical as well as historical importance. Your process has allowed us to achieve greater maturation and cohesiveness in our thinking. Now we turn our ideas into action!" --Mark Heckler, President, Valparaiso University
Visit the Internationalization Laboratory website for more information and learn how your institution can participate.
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