COVID-19 has shed a bright light on the many inefficiencies in higher education and has also created opportunities for higher education chief executives to reimagine new and better ways of serving students in the future.
Before defining a reimagined international student office, it is necessary to define a reimagined university as an institution led by a president or vice-chancellor who is willing to lead not at the margins, but with innovation and flexibility. This chief executive has the ability to encourage the entire campus community to embrace a vision for the future, not just for the next semester or academic year.
Because global initiatives and international student recruitment, enrolment and graduation are critical to the financial stability of many colleges and universities, the international student office should be reimagined to reflect the vision of the reimagined university and contribute to its economic viability.
In the reimagined international student office, contact with international students begins at the time of application and acceptance, continues throughout the international students’ time on campus and follows graduates to alumni involvement.
The reimagined international student office is led by a vice president for international students and global initiatives. This chief executive is fully versed in global literacy and is vested in imaginative ways to use information and research to advance the goals of the global campus of tomorrow.
Why does it need reimagining?
COVID-19 has disrupted many aspects of higher education, including how students are recruited, admitted and enrolled, where and how students are taught and how buildings and classrooms are reconfigured to ensure the safety of students, faculty and staff.
Perhaps no cohort of students has been more impacted by the pandemic than international students.
According to a Pearson’s Global Learner Survey of 7,000 people, published in August 2020, three out of every four global learners believe COVID-19 has fundamentally changed higher education as we know it and it is unlikely there will ever be a return to the pre-pandemic higher education experience.
Geopolitical tensions, health concerns, travel bans and visa processing delays have negatively altered, at least for now, the mobility of many international students.
We know the student supply chain of Chinese students has been disrupted. China is no longer the largest exporter of students. And colleges and universities in countries that have been dependent on Chinese student enrolments, such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, can no longer expect Chinese students to enrol in the numbers they have for decades.
For many higher education institutions decreases in international student enrolment may mean merging with another institution or closure.
The time has come for college and university chief executives to reimagine the role the international student office can and should play in the future.
International student office staffing
The vice president for international students and global initiatives has a seat on the chief executive’s cabinet and participates in all major decisions impacting international students and global initiatives.
The vice president has reconfigured the current international student office staff to include the following:
• Director of international research
• International recruitment and admission counsellor
• International student services counsellor
• Study abroad coordinator
• International affiliations coordinator
• International alumni coordinator
• International conference coordinator.
Most colleges and universities do not have funding sufficient to hire additional staff. But most colleges and universities do have the ability and flexibility to re-assign already employed personnel to staff the international student office in coordinated and imaginative ways.
Reimagined international office functions
Information from the director of international research identifies international recruitment trends and is a resource to the university’s recruitment team in planning future international recruitment outreach.
Collaboration between the director of international research and the director of study abroad programmes identifies potential international partners for future collaboration and potential combined degree programmes. This information is shared with members of an institution’s legal team responsible for drafting agreements.
International applicants receive in their admission packet information from the registrar on the sequence of courses needed to graduate and estimates from the financial aid office about the cost to graduate as well as information on scholarships available to international students.
In addition, accepted international applicants receive information on current international students and alumni from their country along with relevant contact information.
Accepted students receive contact information for current faculty and administrators from their country.
The parents of accepted international students receive contact information of current and past parents of international students.
Information on how national holidays, specific to each country, are observed is also included in the acceptance packet, as is a calendar of two-, three- or four-year start and stop times.
Coordinated outreach between accepted applicants, international alumni ambassadors and the international admission counsellor provides valuable insights to the university admission staff of accepted international applicants. This information is also shared with the chief financial officer and budgets can be adjusted upward or downward based on the expected number of international students likely to enrol.
Each staff member of the reimagined international student office is assigned a cohort of international students to advise and mentor to help students navigate essential administrative procedures, including visa processing and renewal.
The vice president for international students and global initiatives collaborates with the college or university’s alumni office staff to identify international students most likely to serve as alumni ambassadors after graduation.
The vice president for international students and global initiatives collaborates with the public relations department to assist that department with creating international branding initiatives.
The vice president for international students and global initiatives collaborates with the entire staff of the reimagined international student office to identify potential global initiatives, including international research collaboration and staff participation at international conferences.
The vice president for international students and global initiatives presents information to the chief executive’s cabinet, including a list of new initiatives and the cost-benefit analysis associated with each, as well as international vision goals that have been achieved and those not yet accomplished.
No more business as usual
We are living in a world where norms are constantly unravelling around the edges, including norms for higher education and international higher education administration.
The suggestions outlined in this article are the beginning of a discussion. The list of functions is, by no means, complete and depends on the internal organisation and the internal politics of the college or university.
But this article does suggest a more comprehensive interpretation of how the activities and focus of the international student office can contribute to the success of the reimagined university.
Or will we go back to business as usual?