I recently wrote an article for QS AIM which they gave the title, ‘Improving the student experience: The importance of international administrative staff’. In it, I tried to explain why I thought professional administrators in international higher education should have as much chance in their careers to be internationally mobile as academics. Academics have plenty of opportunity to teach almost anywhere in the world, but jobs for higher education administrators who want to work outside of their home country are fewer and further between.
My article sparked a thoughtful discussion on Linked In: Would hiring international administrative staff be key to improve the experience of international students? I read through people’s comments with interest, and I wanted to respond to a couple of the comments here. I wrote the article mostly as a way to vent my frustration at not being able to find job opportunities for someone with my experience and skills that would advance my career. I have over twelve years’ professional administrative experience in international education, but outside of the UK or USA (both places where I am legally able to work), I will struggle to get hired because of the difficulties in obtaining a work permit in most countries. I think universities just don’t want to bother filling administrative positions with people who require permits; however, they are willing to hire academics from other countries because of the prestige and because it will boost their ranking. Administrative staff don’t seem to be valued in the same way, to the detriment of the student experience.
In the first comment on the Linked In discussion, the question is asked ”How are institutions defining ‘international’ in this context?” Essentially, I meant a higher education professional who was seeking a job outside of their home country; for example, an American looking for work in France, a Nigerian seeking employment in China or an Australian trying to get a job in Mexico. Let’s assume all of these job-seekers are experienced, well-travelled, have good cross-cultural awareness/communication/sensitivity, and have the ‘right’ kind of skills and background working in international higher education in administrative positions. Any of them would bring a great deal to a college or university and would contribute to the success of the international student experience, but because of their nationality, they won’t get a job interview because priority is given to a local candidate. I understand the reasons why this happens (HR, legal, work permits, etc), but it isn’t always in the best interest of the students.
A mix of local and ‘international’, ie. non-local, administrative staff can add immensely to the international student experience at an institution by bringing different perspectives to the table. I work in the International Office at a university in the UK, but I’m not British. I have a colleague who is from China and another who’s American, but the rest of my colleagues are British. The three of us non-Brits think differently from our British colleagues; we suggest ideas and ways of doing things that might not otherwise be explored. If there are issues with an American or Chinese student, we are able to see it from the student’s perspective and perhaps contribute to a solution that might not otherwise be found. I’m not saying we are special or indispensable, but I’d like to think that our office is more effective at providing a well-rounded international student experience because of our points of view.
In the discussion on Linked In, someone else commented, “I think mere recruitment of International staff would not help…We cannot expect them to empathize with the students just because they come from a different culture.” I would agree with that, and mere recruitment of international staff is not what I am suggesting. I’m suggesting international higher education administrative staff with years’ worth of professional experience working with students of many nationalities should have the same opportunities to work around the world as academics. I’m suggesting that a mix of local and non-local staff in an institution’s international office would contribute positively to the international student experience by bringing different perspectives to the development of the programme.