Internationalization of Higher Education – A Big Data Analysis

PI: Yasemin Soysal
Co-I: Yang Hu, Roxana Baltaru

[Funded by the British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant and the Pro-Vice Chancellor Seedcorn Fund, University of Essex, 2016-2018]

In recent decades, “internationalization” has been a key organizational strategy of the expansion of the core missions of higher education systems, beyond teaching and research to driving economic development and pursing global competition. A British Council (2014) survey among 1336 higher education institutions in 131 different countries found that 53 per cent has an internationalization policy/strategy, and 22 per cent has one in preparation. There is little systematic, empirical research that focuses on the diffusion of internationalized university as a standardized organizational form. We also know little about what internationalization means across the spectrum of HE institutions (HEIs), the values and principles that are referenced in institutional internationalization policies, and aspirations and standards of excellence adopted in the process of internationalization.

Investigating the diffusion of values and strategies that underlie HE internationalization is vital in mapping the current state and likely direction of the development of HE sector. How do identities of HEIs change in an internationalized marketplace? How do universities differentiate their institutional identities to signal distinctiveness and excellence? Are there institutional, regional, or country specific patterns and what explains such patterns? Under these broad lines of inquiry, we are conducting a pilot study focusing on UK universities, which are on the front-line of internationalization in Europe. We are asking two specific questions: a) how do UK universities conceptualize and strategize internationalization as part of their institutional identity? b) how do (international) students themselves engage such concepts and strategies?

To answer these questions, we apply data-mining techniques to two sources of internet-based structured and unstructured data: a) UK university webpages that contain their mission of internationalization and their prospectuses specifically prepared to reach international student body; b) student blogs, internet chat-rooms, and discussion forums which serve not only as important sources of information but also as key sites for the exchange of ideas on international education (e.g. major online forums such as and, for example, attract millions of Chinese students to discuss their university choices, application processes, expectations as well as experiences of international education). The project will contribute both methodologically and substantively to the study of patterns and trends of the HE internationalizing process.