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 firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter @karinfischer.