Champion pro vice chancellors to drive international strategies, UK unis told

The Route to Pro Vice-Chancellor International report, published by the IC Global Partnership and Berwick Partners, details the “increasingly complex, broad and challenging, operating in shifting national and international landscapes” portfolios of PVC-Is.

Additionally, it found a range of barriers that need to be overcome to allow PVC-Is to reach the top of their careers. It also considered how the role may look in a post-coronavirus pandemic environment.

“Internationalisation is an institutional choice,” the paper read.

“Those institutions who have PVC-I representation at the executive table benefit from having a champion with in depth global knowledge, diplomacy, a collaborator and someone who can bring alignment across the institution and drive internationalisation forward to achieve institutional mission and strategy.”

However, of the 138 universities included in the research, 52.2% do not have specific PVC-I job titles or equivalent positions listed in the public domain, researchers found.

Across the UK, the roles vary “depending on the type of institution, at what stage of internationalisation the institution has reached and/or aspires to achieve”.

Co-founder and director of The IC Global Charlene Allen said the low proportion of UK institutions with PVC-I roles was unexpected. Researchers anticipated around 75% of universities to have equivalent positions listed.

“Several universities may feel they are at the mature stages of internationalisation, meaning internationalisation is embedded into everything they do, and no longer need an executive lead for internationalisation,” she told The PIE.

“However, our observations are that a PVC-I, or equivalent role, who has a seat at the executive table enables the institution to continuously develop and innovate, drive positive impact globally through understanding the integration of internationalisation across the different aspects of the university, and is always thinking about the future due to the changing environment of international education.”

The IC wants universities to consider internationalisation and global engagement as key priorities, she continued.

“As we emerge from the effects of the pandemic and the impact of Brexit, engaging globally as an institution has never been more important. Having an executive voice who can respond to these challenges, as well as tackling climate change and equality, will put institutions in an advantageous position in both the short and long term.”

While more leaders of internationalisation should be part of institutions’ decision making, barriers have limited this possible contribution.

Travel commitments PVC-Is have often take them away from the executive table, compared with other leaders.

“There is no linear career trajectory or aspirations for professionals in education or international roles to become PVC-Is,” the paper added. A clear, actively promoted, path, featuring mentors, could affect the desirability and demand for this role, it suggested.

“Colleagues have suggested there is a need for training and development for those in the role now and those who aspire to be in the role as part of their professional trajectory,” Allen explained.

The document also warned that “internationalisation activity could be reduced to save money in the short term” as a result of the cost of the Covid-19 pandemic, meaning the PVC-I role could be removed or merged.

An increased focus on different education delivery models such as TNE partnerships, 2+2 agreements, virtual mobility, or the prominence of environmental sustainability within institutions could lead to a need for a PVC-I’s knowledge and skills, it continued.

However, international student recruitment is “still one of the key areas that will keep them awake at night”, Allen noted, although institutions’ internationalisation strategies “very much depended on the institution’s perception of internationalisation, the institution’s vision and the type of institution the PVC-I was working in”.

PVC-Is are “well placed” to lead in response to environmental sustainability and global warming as a result of “their skill set, their global outlook and multi-layered and multi-national remit”.

“Environmental sustainability is an area of increased importance to both students, parents and institutions,” Allen added.

“Due to the nature of the PVC-I role being very much an integrator role, having that broad view and understanding of the institutions activities and being able to make the appropriate and relevant connections, means that those in this role could also lead on environmental sustainability for their institutions.”

“It’s really important that there is a recognition internally within universities of the importance of this role and how it shapes and informs institutional strategies as a whole. I’m really pleased that is the case at the University of Glasgow,” said Rachel Sandison, who is in an equivalent vice principal, external relations at the institution.

“I think we are integrators, we’re influencers. And I would also posit that we are matchmakers and quite often we’re being asked to be steers for our universities as well. It’s not just about understanding what the environment looks like today or tomorrow, but actually making bets for institutions on what the world will look like in five years time, in 10 years, 15 years.”

In the case of Coventry University, it “wanted to be the most international university in the UK and make enough money to afford that”, its deputy vice-chancellor (International Development) David Pilsbury added. “Other people have more modest ambitions, but PVC-Is need to reflect what the institution wants to do.

“When you’ve got clear operating parameters that everybody understands and you’ve got an international strategy, then it will work. And that strategy has to reflect the ambitions of the institution.”

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