Agility is a guiding light for the future of this area of life and learning.
GUEST COLUMN | by Kerry Geffert
As many colleges and universities venture through the initial weeks of re-opening their campuses for both in-person and virtual learning models, administrators are also considering the future implications for international education programs.
For example, when will it be safe to resume study abroad opportunities in any capacity and when will international students be able to return to U.S. campuses based on immigration regulations and virus impacts? While many of these questions still remain unanswered, it is clear that agility is integral to strategic planning for international education initiatives now and moving forward.
We discussed this topic in a recent webinar with multiple institutions, and it was clear that administrators who have experienced disasters in the past have structured their overall strategic plans so that agility and resilience are built-in rather than a reactionary component. Whether faced with a weather event or a pandemic, institutions must have a cohesive plan that accommodates agility across departments in order to be ready to respond effectively – even without knowing the specific outcomes.
‘Whether faced with a weather event or a pandemic, institutions must have a cohesive plan that accommodates agility across departments…’
Learn from the Past
In order to build agility into an institution’s international education plan, leaders can benefit from taking action based on what they have learned from previous experiences and re-investing that knowledge into protocols and practices for the future. As the saying goes, never let a crisis go to waste. While this is near-impossible to implement in the midst of a crisis, the groundwork for improved future planning can be established after things have re-stabilized to some extent. For example, study abroad offices have planned for various emergency scenarios in the past – ranging from natural disasters to political instability and health risks. These offices have done due diligence and put into place communication tools and technologies to stay connected with impacted students and faculty as well as provide them necessary resources in real time.
Prepare for the Future
Building on these protocols, institutions can now increase their resiliency by incorporating new data from the pandemic in order to anticipate more potential scenarios and expanded communication needs. They can also continue to monitor and evaluate the latest indicators regarding the state of the pandemic on their home campuses, as well as other institutions. This helps ensure an accurate pulse on appropriate timing for possible travel opportunities that meet safety criteria set by each institution as well as the U.S. and other governments.
Additionally, universities and colleges can ensure their international education plans are supported by the greater campus community by including key cross-departmental stakeholders in dialogue and governance around proposed policy updates and by explaining how new data is informing decisions fluidly. This can help faculty and staff with a vested interest in study abroad or international student programs understand why changes are happening and offer an opportunity for them to raise concerns as well as offer possible solutions.
‘This can help faculty and staff with a vested interest in study abroad or international student programs understand why changes are happening…’
Agility in international education programs is integral for strategic planning success. Higher education leaders are working to steer their ships based on new information and trends that shift on a daily or weekly basis, so planning must take this dynamic into account to make forward progress. Taking the time to proactively develop plans for the next versions of international programming will help ensure readiness when the time comes to move forward – incorporating lessons learned from the pandemic and allowing for enough flexibility to change based on evolving needs.
Kerry Geffert is a member of the team at TerraDotta, a leading provider of international education solutions and higher education software. He was vice president of American Institute for Foreign Study for 18 years; VP of University Partnerships at CEA Global Education, and Director of Campus Relations for Athena Study Abroad. He is a current member of NAFSA: Association of International Educators. Write to: [email protected]