Hans de Wit, who’s been collaborating with colleagues at Boston College’s Center for International Higher Education (CIHE) from academic posts around the world for 20 years, joins the Lynch School of Education this fall as a professor and director of CIHE. A native of the Netherlands who is recognized as an expert in global concerns in higher education, he brings his background in research, policy, and management to both the University and CIHE.
De Wit is an authority on “internationalization,” or how universities become more global through recruiting international faculty and students, partnering with universities in other countries, and establishing satellite campuses. Before he arrived at Boston College in September, de Wit served as director for the Center for Higher Education Internationalization at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, Italy, and as a professor of internationalization of higher education at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands.
The CIHE, notes de Wit, is widely recognized as a source for news and analysis in international higher education. Its quarterly publication, International Higher Education, is translated and read throughout the world. Housed at the Lynch School in Campion Hall, the center also publishes books and research on major developments in international higher education; key issues include market demand and academic corruption. Much of the CIHE’s work is done in collaboration with partner universities in North America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and Latin America.
In addition to leading the CIHE, de Wit will teach two courses for the Lynch School’s Master of Higher Education Program: Internationalization of Higher Education and Global and Comparative Systems of Higher Education. Courses such as these, he says, are now essential for preparing students for careers in areas of academic administration and student affairs that serve a growing international student population. (According to a 2014 report by the Institute of International Education, a New York-based nonprofit that tracks study-abroad trends, the number of international students studying in the United States has risen to almost 900,000, an 8 percent jump from 2013 and a 72 percent increase since 2000.)
De Wit is also helping to develop a new master’s program in international higher education at the Lynch School, scheduled to launch in September 2016. (The Lynch School’s Ph.D. program in higher education currently offers a specialty in international and comparative education.)
According to de Wit, the master’s degree curriculum will combine courses on international higher education and the internationalization of higher education with research methodology. It will also include a fieldwork requirement and opportunities to collaborate and take courses with CIHE’s university partners. Students, he says, will graduate with a “research-based practice background,” appropriate for management-level roles in universities, higher education institutions, and global organizations such as the World Bank, which oversees a policy program to improve access to higher education.
An increased number of students specifically trained in the field, de Wit argues, will improve quality higher education outcomes worldwide, as it increases international research and partnerships. “We cannot work in isolation,” he says. “As the world becomes more interconnected, we must, too.”
That is true at all universities with an international presence, which need “to educate their graduates to not only be good academics and professionals but also good global citizens who understand how to work in an international context,” says de Wit.
The Global Survey Report on the Internationalization of Higher Education, released by the International Association of Universities last year, underscores de Wit’s assessment. It found that preparing students to succeed in a more globalized world was a top priority among 1,336 institutions in 131 countries. Respondents from North America and the Asia-Pacific region rated such preparation higher than such critical concerns as strengthening knowledge, producing research, and generating revenue.
De Wit came to the field of international education by way of social and cultural anthropology and an interest, he says, “in the world and people around me.” In 1976, as a graduate student with a specialty in Latin American studies at the University of Amsterdam, he conducted fieldwork in Lima, Peru. After receiving his M.Sc. in social anthropology and development sociology three years later, he became an assistant professor of Latin American studies at the University of Utrecht.
At about that time, the European Commission, the European Union’s executive body, had started to pilot student exchanges within Europe, and de Wit moved into international education administration. From 1981 to 1985, he led the Office of International Relations at Tilburg University in the Netherlands.
We cannot work in isolation. As the world becomes more interconnected, we must, too.
— Hans de Wit
De Wit first came to Boston College in 1995 as a visiting sociology lecturer in a yearlong faculty exchange coordinated by the Boston College Office of International Programs. Shortly after his arrival, de Wit recalls, he met Philip Altbach, a new professor and endowed chair at the School of Education at Boston College, who had just launched the Center for International Higher Education. De Wit describes their first meeting as “the start of 20 years of collaboration.” (Altbach retired as director of the center in 2013 and continues as a research professor.)
De Wit and Altbach first collaborated on an article in International Higher Education titled “International Higher Education: America Abdicates Leadership,” about the challenges the United States faced in an increasingly competitive arena. The piece argued, says de Wit, “that the U.S. was falling behind.” In addition to contributing articles to the center’s journal during his year at Boston College, de Wit wrote his first book, Strategies for Internationalisation: A Comparative Study of Australia, Canada, Europe, and the United States of America (European Association for International Education).
In 1996, de Wit returned to the University of Amsterdam to become vice president of international affairs. A year later he founded the Journal of Studies in International Education, a peer-reviewed academic journal that now boasts 10,000 subscribers. In 2001, he earned his Ph.D. in humanities from the University of Amsterdam, focusing his thesis on a historical, comparative, and conceptual analysis of international higher education in the United States and Europe. By 2005, when he returned to the Boston College Center for International Higher Education as a Fulbright Scholar, de Wit and Altbach were widely recognized as international higher education researchers and consultants.
De Wit continues to use a comparative approach in much of his research, he says, “to understand the similarities and differences in how the field is evolving.” Recently, as a consultant to the European Parliament, he completed a comparative studyof how the governments of 17 countries in and outside Europe are internationalizing higher education institutions.
In addition to increasing collaboration with CIHE’s partners in Japan, Russia, South Africa, and Chile, de Wit, who is a researcher with the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, is particularly interested in expanding the center’s work in Africa, where “there is an enormous demand for higher education from a rising middle class,” he notes. The Boston College Center for International Higher Education is already well positioned for such research, de Wit observes: since 2003, it has partnered with the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, to cohost the International Network for Higher Education in Africa, an online clearinghouse of news, articles, and resources on higher education on the continent.
More research, says de Wit, will help higher education experts and scholars better determine Africa’s specific cultural and educational needs, particularly in regions of conflict. “We must strike the right balance and not just copy the research and professional universities in Europe, North America, and Australia,” he explains.
De Wit would also like to examine “the relationship between Catholic identity, higher education, and internationalization,” he says. Three of his academic appointments—Tilburg University, the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, and now Boston College—are with Catholic universities with successful international higher education centers. In collaboration with colleagues at the Center for Research on Educational Policy and Practice at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, in Santiago, de Wit will present a seminar exploring this topic at the university this January. The hope, he says, is to expand the seminar to include a broader comparative analysis of Catholic universities in North America, Europe, and Latin America, another region of high interest to him.
“There is so much need for relevant research,” says de Wit. “That’s what drives me.”