It is Time for “New” Leadership in International Offices of the (Post-)COVID Era

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Offline kazi mesbah ur rahman

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It is Time for “New” Leadership in International Offices of the (Post-)COVID Era

By Tim Jansa, Ed.D., Affiliate, Gateway International Group, and Administrator, Georgia State University

Shortly after the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic on March 11, 2020, the Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA) launched a series of virtual town halls for practitioners and scholars of international higher education to address the effects of a drastically and quickly evolving post-secondary landscape. In addition to debating myriad administrative challenges precipitated by this crisis, Display footnote number:1 many senior international officers (SIOs) posed fundamental questions about leading their offices remotely and expressed concerns about the future viability of their programs.

This observation reveals two apparent weaknesses in U.S. postsecondary internationalization: 1) staff engagement, motivation, and role assignment and 2) a potential further erosion of often already tenuous administrative support for many institutions’ international initiatives. Most compellingly, both concerns are inextricably tied to leadership.

Facing a New Reality:

The internationalization landscape SIOs and their teams must now navigate has drastically changed since the emergence of the pandemic. Like other countries, U.S. higher education is grappling with the severe financial impact of lost revenue, Display footnote number:2 in addition to budget cuts, staff furloughs or layoffs, program closures, and reduced tuition and fees. Consequently, international office leaders are hard-pressed to assert the importance of global education to their stakeholders. At the same time, curtailed mobility due to health concerns, immigration issues, border closures, rising nationalism, and high unemployment that disproportionally affects college students have dealt a massive blow to many an institutions’ international initiatives.

As traditional mobility-focused programs fight to remain viable, the time of focusing on marketing our institutions to international students and external partners domestically and abroad while relying largely on quantitative metrics to justify these activities to institutional leaders may well have come to an end.

"New" Leadership for Campus Internationalization:

In theory, contemporary internationalization frameworks include curriculum integration, advocacy, communication, and relationships with on- and off-campus partners. In reality, however, many international officers and their teams have long found themselves preoccupied with mostly bureaucratic and administrative tasks like risk and crisis management, contingency planning, and budget oversight.

This somewhat skewed focus is evident in guidelines for internationalization leaders, such as NAFSA’s International Education Professional Competencies and AIEA’s Standards of Professional Practice,Display footnote number:3,4 in which student mobility, enrollment management, and international student and scholar services dominate over advocacy, student engagement, or (inter) personal skills and attributes reflected in the literature on higher education leadership.Display footnote number:5, 6, 7 I argue that embracing precisely those qualitative and relationship-oriented approaches may allow leaders to better respond to the current crises, redirect their focus back to their campuses, transcend disciplinary silos, and garner crucial buy-in and active participation across the entire campus community.Display footnote number:8

To meet today’s challenges, leaders may consider reflecting on and adopting the following recommendations to support a realignment of their initiatives:

1. Be a transformational leader.
Leverage your and your team’s diverse professional, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds to model the types of global skills, behaviors, and worldviews you wish to see in your graduates.

When leaders visibly exemplify desired educational outcomes, key stakeholders on campus will notice, learn to support those programs, and emulate the leaders.

2. Empower your team to take on leadership roles.

Train and trust all members of your team to represent your office and forge relationships with relevant stakeholders. Consider actively involving both domestic and international students in diffusing global thinking across campus. Direct these efforts, but allow for staff, students, and faculty to have agency in growing a dynamic international community of practice.

3. Guide instructional practices and curriculum integration.

Remember how you developed international awareness, knowledge, and skills. Leverage these experiences to help departments integrate global content into their curricula, and consider teaching a course or workshop on a topic of global relevance.

Leadership is, in its essence, about relationships. (See Endnote 7) And arguably no field in higher education presents the level of complexities and unique challenges that come with serving constituents from such a wide range of languages, cultures, and disciplines. Although the core competencies of campus internationalization leaders are not bound to change drastically, embracing relational aspects of leadership and distributing responsibilities may well serve to reassert the significance of our institutions’ international programs, ensure their survival, and provide our graduates with the knowledge, attitudes, and skills to solve increasingly complex global problems.


Kazi Mesbah Ur Rahman (Kazi Misu )
Administrative Officer ( International Affairs)
Daffodil International University