Student mobility is of course a major component of higher education internationalization, but attention is increasingly being given to the importance of faculty mobility. As the works reviewed here show, this latter form of mobility can be understood in several ways. On one hand, it may refer to the movement of faculty from one country to another in pursuit of long term or permanent academic positions. In other cases, it may refer to participation in short term work and living experiences abroad. The research considered here explores the nature of both experiences and the degree to which they may contribute to the larger goals of internationalization.


Studies dealing with the first form of mobility described above consider the experiences of what are typically termed ‘international faculty’. Although opinions vary on matters of definition, Altbach and Yudevich offer a description that may serve to capture the general meaning. ‘International faculty,’ they write, are ‘a diverse subset of the global academic labor force’ comprised of ‘academics that hold opportunities in countries where they were not born and/or where they did not receive their first post secondary degree’. ‘At the top,’ they continue, are ‘distinguished senior professors’ who are recruited by leading research universities; elsewhere, many international faculty form ‘a necessary part of the teaching staff in countries with shortages of local academics’ (Altbach and Yudevich, 8, 10). Rumbley and de Wit add that ‘in between these two extremes, a range of middle-and upper-tier universities may actually be seeking out international academics to some degree’ (Rumbley and de Wit, 7).


Altbach and Yudevich further note that ‘Many countries and institutions see employing non-native academics as a key part of internationalization strategies’ (Altbach and Yudevich, 8). These good intentions aside, it nevertheless often happens that, far from being integrated into ‘“ordinary” university life’, international faculty can find themselves in an ‘international ghetto’ (Ibid, 10). A similar point is made in another recent study which found that if ‘international faculty members were significantly more productive in research’ than their native peers, they were ‘significantly less engaged in service and teaching’ (Mamiseishvili and Rosser, 101). The authors go on to cite additional studies which ‘suggest that as non-native speakers of English, international faculty members experience more questioning of their teaching credibility’ or that ‘that international faculty members are often assigned to teach courses that are related to their ethnic or national background’ (Ibid, 102).


Mamiseishvili and Rosser observe in summary that these results indicate something of a lost opportunity in the sense that ‘with more support in their teaching function, international faculty members can bring diverse perspectives to the classrooms, can serve as role models to the growing number of international students, and more importantly, can derive personal satisfaction from the work they do’ (Ibid, 104). This point is echoed in the words of Rumbley and de Wit when writing that ‘the manner and extent to which the presence of foreign faculty exerts an impact on their host institutions seems rarely explored, documented, or leveraged systematically’ (Rumbley and de Wit, 7).


A rather different stream of research is represented by studies which focus on the experience of faculty who have taken part in short term teaching and study abroad projects. These latter works seek to determine the degree to which the time abroad constituted a learning experience for those involved and, in turn, served to inform their subsequent instructional and research activities. This intent is explicitly stated in the very title of an article by David Sandgren and his co-authors (‘How International Experience Affects Teaching: Understanding the Impact of Faculty Study Abroad’) which poses the basic question: ‘How does faculty study abroad affect teaching?’ (Sandgren et al, 33).


What follows is a study of responses from 48 faculty members of Concordia College (Minnesota) who took part in short term study-abroad seminars in Central America, South America, Southern Africa and India. Each seminar was approximately three weeks in duration and consisted of in and out of classroom learning experiences. Upon return, the participants were required ‘to globalize at least one of their courses’ (Ibid, 36). The extent to which they had done so was assessed through a comparison of student evaluations of the courses taught by these faculty alongside those of a control group of courses taught by instructors who had not taken part in the seminars. The results, which showed a ‘positive impact on “globalizing” the participants’ teaching’, led to another round of review via self-reports and interviews intended to reveal ‘what seminar experiences had moved faculty to change their teaching’ (Ibid, 33, 38). In considering these reflections, the researchers found that many ‘articulated a causal connection between either the general experience of the seminar or a specific event, a new or intensified self and/or social awareness, and a resulting change in course content and/or teaching style’ (Ibid, 52).


Similar findings were obtained by Cynthia Miglietti in a work discussing the experience of US business faculty who had taken part in Fulbright Scholar mobility programs. Those surveyed, writes Miglietti, reported that they used more ‘global examples’ in their courses, gave more attention to global issues and had more discussions with students on global issues (Miglietti, 53). She concludes that ‘the experience of being in a foreign culture caused a transformation in many faculty by enhancing their global business awareness which in turn led to changes in their teaching’ (Ibid, 53). These results chime well with another recent study of returning Fulbright faculty conducted by Pamela Edy. According to Edy, ‘faculty experienced a move from expert/insider to novice/outsider as a result of the new international context’, an experience that was the basis for ‘transformational learning’ (Ibid, 24).


While the preceding works deal mainly with the ways in which a study or work abroad experience may affect a faculty members future approach to teaching, others address how the experience might abet additional forms of internationalization. For example, in ‘American Faculty in an Age of Globalization,’ Martin Finkelstein and co-authors suggest that experiences abroad have a significant effect in promoting international research collaboration. In a survey of 80 American institutions and 1,170 faculty members over the 2007-08 academic year, the authors found that faculty who tended to be more engaged in international research collaborations were those who were already likely to have a pronounced research dimension to their work. However, they quickly arrived at another significant insight: ‘It was somewhat surprising,’ they observed, ‘that adult years spent abroad trumped all but high research involvement as perhaps the most pervasive and powerful predictor of US faculty internationalization in research content and networks’ (Finkelstein et al, 338). According to the authors, these findings have important implications for administrators seeking to promote internationalization on their campuses. They go on to explain:


While we were unable either to specify the nature or timing of such border crossing, what is clear is that such sustained border crossing experience as an adult is key and that such experience requires some substantial duration to have an impact (at least 1 year). Such a finding provides some solid quantitative empirical support to the value of national initiatives such as the Fulbright Scholars program… as well as a solid justification for institutional and extra- institutional initiatives to provide graduate students and faculty with extended border crossing experiences’ (Finkelstein et al, 388).


The foregoing review provides in sum a mixed picture. On one hand, studies of the effects of faculty who participate in short term or temporary work and study abroad programs express considerable optimism for the importance of such experiences as a means to promote curriculum changes consistent with the goals of internationalization at home. On the other hand, research on the subject of long-term international faculty mobility suggests that this a ‘complex phenomenon, fraught with possibilities and inequalities’ our understanding of which is hindered by ‘a surprising lack of data and studies’ (Rumbley and de Wit, 7). In the view of these and other researchers, this latter form of international faculty mobility represents a missed opportunity for higher education internationalization, albeit one amenable to redress.



Works Cited


Altbach, Philip G., and Maria Yudkevich. "Twenty-first century mobility: the role of international faculty." International Higher Education 90 (2017): 8-10.


Eddy, Pamela L. "Faculty as border crossers: A study of Fulbright faculty." New Directions for Higher Education 2014, no. 165 (2014): 19-30.


Finkelstein, Martin J., Elaine Walker, and Rong Chen. "The American faculty in an age of globalization: Predictors of internationalization of research content and professional networks." Higher Education 66, no. 3 (2013): 325-340.


Mamiseishvili, Ketevan, and Vicki J. Rosser. "International and citizen faculty in the United States: An examination of their productivity at research universities." Research in Higher Education 51, no. 1 (2010): 88.


Miglietti, Cynthia. "Teaching business classes abroad: How international experience benefits faculty, students, and institutions." Journal of Teaching in International Business 26, no. 1 (2015): 46-55.


Rumbley, Laura E., and Hans De Wit. "International faculty mobility: Crucial and understudied." International Higher Education 88 (2017): 6-8.


Sandgren, David, Nick Elig, Peter Hovde, Mark Krejci, and Mary Rice. "How international experience affects teaching: Understanding the impact of faculty study abroad." Journal of Studies in International Education 3, no. 1 (1999): 33-56.