That universities continue to seek greater levels of international student recruitment is beyond doubt, but what of the people charged with fulfilling this task?
The idea of placing a senior member of staff in charge of an institution’s international strategy is now commonplace, but do we know enough about the importance that is currently attached to these roles? What are their priorities and what do they think it takes to succeed in such a role?
Earlier this year, a membership body for those working in this precise field – the Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA) – canvassed the thoughts of 171 individuals holding positions that (as job titles tend to range from ‘directors’ to ‘associate vice president’ or ‘assistant vice chancellor’) are bracketed together as being equivalent to ‘senior international officer’ (SIO). With 45% of these predominately US-based respondents hailing from research universities and 34% from master’s or postgraduate institutions, here’s what the survey deduced.
There’s little argument over internationalization’s importance to international student recruitment
Just over half of the respondents (53%) indicated that their institution deemed internationalization a high priority in strategic plans and 46% said that internal internationalization advisory boards were in place. A majority of respondents also said they felt that the role had taken on greater importance in the past three years – with their work becoming “more central, prominent, expanded and relevant at higher education institutions, with more emphasis given to student recruitment/enrolment and workforce preparation.”
Testament to the importance ascribed to such roles is the level of pay on offer. The average remuneration enjoyed by responding SIOs was US$122,078, up from US$117,411 in 2011. Furthermore, while 50% of respondents have held their SIO position for less than five years, those employed as an SIO are experienced members of academic staff. As many as 89% hold a doctorate or professional degree, 75% are faculty members and 49% gained tenure at their institution. The most common age grouping was found to be 51-66 – which accounted for 60% of respondents – and there was a relatively even split between men (52%) and women (48%). A report in University World News emphasized the significance of backgrounds such as these, saying that it puts them in the “growing category of academic-administrators who understand both the history and the future of the university.”
Forging links and what to look for in an SIO
Their place in an institution’s ambitions now firmly established, what do SIOs consider to be the most integral elements of their position?
Forging links and partnerships, as well as representing the institution when engaging with other institutions, were two of the three most commonly-cited primary responsibilities named by respondents to the AIEA survey. Working on international study or language programs, meanwhile, was a clear winner among the choices of secondary responsibilities.
With these duties in mind, it is hardly surprising that 91% of respondents deemed knowledge of the international higher education terrain to be a valuable characteristic for an SIO. Fewer than half (48%) named knowledge of business principles and practices in this category. However, a business mindset drew greater recognition when it came to areas of prior experience perceived as valuable in performing an SIO role effectively. Experience of academic administration and organizational management were the top two answers here, and were named by just over 70%, ahead of budget management (41%) and overseas living experience (39%).
In terms of attributes, more SIOs pointed to the value of interpersonal skills (68%) than to intercultural competence (55%), while vision (66%) came out top among personal characteristics ahead of passion (63%) and flexibility (41%).
In conclusion, those who carry out the job see the perfect SIO as being, first and foremost, an expert in global higher education affairs, yet one who is simultaneously well versed in the practicalities of running a successful institution. They should possess a strong overall picture of what they hope to achieve and relate well to those around them as they work towards increasing an institution’s international standing through partnerships, as student recruitment becomes increasingly central to their role.