Counting What Counts

The requests came in with regularity: What’s the university’s international research footprint? We have a delegation visiting from Brazil — what work are we doing there?

Each time, Kiki Caruson and her colleagues at the University of South Florida would scramble to track down the relevant information. But they began to wonder, were ad hoc data dives the best approach?

Today, through its Global Discovery Hub, USF carefully tracks reams of international data, from the global publications of its faculty to the cross-cultural content of its courses. Being able to measure global impact helps “embed international into the broader narrative” of the university, Caruson says.

A couple of weeks ago, at the annual meeting of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, I talked with Caruson, Janaka Ruwanpara of the University of Calgary, and Stephen Wisniewski of the University of Pittsburgh about the benefits and challenges of measuring internationalization. Here are a couple of takeaways:

What you don’t measure is as important as what you do. Universities need to be smart about what they measure and how they measure it, these experts said. What questions are you trying to answer with data? Simply tracking your university’s presence in a specific country is of little use if you don’t know nature of a particular partnership or which faculty members are involved. Too often, says Caruson, “either you’re in a data desert or you’re awash in data.”

Data can lead to fresh priorities. Universities can’t work everywhere and with everyone, so USF was trying to figure out where to leverage its strengths internationally. When they ran the numbers, the results were surprising: USF had robust relationships right in its own backyard, in Canada. Examining where faculty members were working spotlighted places where the university should be engaged on a broader institutional level, Caruson says.

Measuring international effort requires collaboration. Universities are sprawling, decentralized places. And while international offices own certain data — study-abroad participation, student visa numbers — information about activities like international publications or alumni overseas is often housed elsewhere. Pitt’s global data efforts were jumpstarted when Wisniewski, the vice provost for data and information, began collaborating with the global affairs office.

The portrait is getting clearer at the institutional level, but what about nationally? Individual universities are getting more and more sophisticated about tracking their global impact. But that doesn’t tell us much about internationalization across the higher education sector. Ruwanpara is pushing for more benchmarking of global data, perhaps through APLU. “We need standard data and standard metrics,” he said.

What are your yardsticks for international impact? Drop me a line at or find me on Twitter @karinfischer.

Could an Executive Order Curb Speech?

Earlier this year, the Trump administration threatened to withhold funding for a Duke-UNC Middle East studies program it accused of giving insufficient air time to Christianity and Judaism. Under a just-signed executive order, the Department of Education would have substantially more ammunition to penalize programs. The order classifies Judaism as a nationality or race, thus allowing penalities to be levied under civil-rights legislation for failure to foster an open climate on campus.

The measure, however, has prompted concerns that the administration will attempt to dictate curriculum to colleges and that it could seek to curb free speech.

Pathways Programs: Your Response

Last week I wrote about the disappointing results of a partnership between the University of Kansas and a private recruiting partner, Shorelight Education. Together, the pair had hoped to double Kansas’ international enrollments. Instead, the share of foreign students on campus shrunk. I asked: What does the future hold for private-sector partnerships, and particularly for the pathways model, which recruits large numbers of students to colleges through a dedicated program?

I heard from many of you. Some of you were resolutely downbeat about pathways. Others took me to task for forecasting the end of this particular model based on a single example. (Um, I didn’t.) As a whole, the responses were articulate, nuanced, and offered fresh perspectives on the issue. Here are a few, edited slighly for space and clarity:

Location and (sadly) ranking are very important for students and families from some countries. Ttraditional U.S. pathways tend to not be very highly ranked and many rank around the same level, so it becomes tougher to put students in locations that may not be as well known to an international audience. The numbers are still there — China sends a huge amount of students and a lot of them go to pathway programs. But declines could be due to cannibalization from other campuses or from other pathways providers.

– Andrew Ullman, Co-founder, University Bridge

Not all provider relationships are poor, but they’re not a panacea either. The promises can be big, and the delivery underwhelming in some relationships. But there are elements of value, too.

Institutions can benefit from the best practices that some pathway providers bring (and there are several) while leveraging their in-house resources more effectively.

– Rick Rattay, founder and managing partner, TheParliamentGroup

Andy Gruber (@AGruber_UQ): @karinfischer Services partnerships of this scale are difficult in formation and execution. Many possible points of failure. In my opinion, private partnerships are critical and valuable, but need to start small and focused and build over time.

Three fundamental issues in this model (in general, not KU specific):

  1. The overhead included in this recruitment model makes it increasingly harder to recruit and to realize net-tuition revenue (the real carrot for administrators).
  2. The universities need not give up their DNA advantage and should continue to recruit in this area. Their partners shouldn’t forbid this work in contracts.
  3. Greater decisions regarding the financial health of an institution shouldn’t be made on the prospects of success in this partnership.

In the U.S., this model has yet to be as successful as the institutionally controlled one. Yet, it can be tweaked to work better if both sides make changes.

– Ian Little, owner, CDB Solutions

Pathways, of course, are just one vehicle for attracting international students. What are other trends you see in overseas recruitment? Tell me, and I could feature your strategy in an upcoming story.

Around the Globe

Federal officials are defending their decision to set up a sham college as part of a sting against student-visa fraud.

Five University of Buffalo academics were ordered deported from Russia after they violated the terms of their visa by speaking at a local university.

A Russian court gave a political-science student a three-year suspended sentence after he posted videos calling for the ouster of President Vladimir Putin.

The National Academies warns that the U.S. is “at risk of losing its global leadership” in atomic, molecular, and optical science unless the government does more to facilitate international collaboration.

In predicting continued challenges for U.S. higher education, ratings company Fitch singled out a tougher international enrollment picture.

More than 6,000 Turkish academics were dismissed from their university positions in the crackdown that followed a 2016 coup attempt.

A Shanghai university professor has been fired for an alleged sexual assault of a student. But the backlash against a Chinese student studying in Minnesota who accused a powerful entrepreneur of rape reveals the limits of the country’s #MeToo movement.

A commentary in San Diego’s major newspaper decries the “excess” of students from a “hostile” country — that’d be China — studying at University of California campuses.

Students who took part in pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong may not be admitted to mainland Chinese universities.

A Belgian university closed its Confucius Institute after the head of the language and cultural center was accused of spying.

Two Nigerian university students came to Croatia to play in a table-tennis tournament. Instead, they were deported.

A Pakistani scholar’s blasphemy trial has raised alarms about free expression.

And finally …

This is the last edition of latitude(s) for 2019. The newsletter will be on break over these holiday weeks, but no fear — I’ll be following threads and getting a jump on reporting for the year ahead. In fact, I’m writing to you en route to China!

I want to thank all of you for reading and commenting over the past year. I’ve appreciated the wise advice, the smart ideas, and even the gentle chiding more than you can know. As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out — you can find me on Twitter and LinkedIn and reach me over email. And I hope we’ll cross paths in person. Early in the new year, you can catch me at the EnglishUSA conference in San Francisco and the AIEA meeting in D.C.

Meanwhile, no matter how you celebrate, I hope you enjoy this time to relax and recharge. Me, I’ll be making Christmas Eve pizza with my niece and catching up on The Watchmen with Mr. Karin.

Happy 2020!

’Til next time — Karin

A freelance journalist and expert on global issues in higher ed, Karin has been writing for more than a decade about the changing relationship between American colleges and the world.