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New UI advisory council focusing on international issues

William Brustein
Click photo to enlarge
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Going global Developing policies related to study-abroad programs, international students and scholars and international advancement of the UI is the focus of the International Advisory Council, a 23-member group of representatives from all campus units formed last year by William Brustein, associate provost for international affairs and director of International Programs and Studies. The council’s working groups are developing policies about critical issues that will advance the international component of Chancellor Richard Herman’s Strategic Plan for the Urbana campus.

Although the university may, on the surface, appear isolated by its geographical location – and feel even more so when February snows keep people in place – it’s no secret that the UI’s reach extends far beyond the borders of the campus. In recent years, “internationalization” has become a major goal for many universities, Illinois notwithstanding.

What does that mean, exactly?

According to William Brustein, associate provost for international affairs and director of International Programs and Studies, in this context, it refers to the process of infusing an international, intercultural dimension into the educational institution systemically.

“The path to global competence and comprehensive internationalization,” Brustein said, “is not to construct a silo of programs distinctly set up as ‘international,’ but rather, to integrate international and multicultural perspectives and experiences into the university’s three core missions – teaching, research and public engagement – in each of the units.”

To that end, and to move forward with implementation of the international component prescribed in the university’s strategic plan, Brustein – who came to the UI in January 2007 from the University of Pittsburgh – established a campuswide International Advisory Council last spring. He decided to form the council after first taking time to study and familiarize himself with existing systems and structures, and noticing a void.

The 23-member IAC comprises representatives from all campus colleges and other major units. Representatives were selected by deans and unit directors. A list of members is online at www.ips.uiuc.edu/iac.

The advisory body, he said, is “a variation of something done at Pitt. But, when I came here, I said, ‘How can we do it better?’ ”

Whereas at Pitt the deans served on the council, Brustein hoped to convene a more closely focused, task-oriented group of individuals  – each of whom was recommended by his or her dean – who would be able to concentrate on developing and implementing policy in critical areas.

“At the first meeting of the council, I said, ‘Here’s a list of critical issues when it comes to internationalizing the university to make this the best global institution,’ ” Brustein said.

From there, the group got down to business immediately, forming self-selected working groups, on topics that include undergraduate, graduate and professional study abroad; strategic partners, international advancement; and international students and scholars. The groups meet regularly and report recommendations at full council meetings once a semester.

“It’s so vibrant here, with respect to internationalization,” Brustein said. “But if, for example, we hope to reach our goal of doubling our number of study-abroad participants in the next five years, we really need to come up with new policies.” Currently, the UI ranks fourth among public universities in the number of students who study abroad.

With a new, streamlined vehicle for moving policy and practices forward, “we’re the matchmakers, facilitators and coordinators.”

 “Now, when the provost says to me, ‘Send out a memo to deans and directors on issues related to study-abroad programs, risk management, fees charged, or some other issue,’ we have a system in place for getting things done.”

A year after the committee’s first meeting, Brustein believes the working groups will have real progress to report when the full body meets next, this semester.

“This spring, I expect to bring to the chancellor and provost recommendations for policies, in particular on study abroad and issues surrounding it.”

And that’s no small achievement, he said, given the complexities of the current structure, in which college study-abroad programs, which are often internally subsidized, and the campus-level program, in effect, compete with each other for student participants.

“We should all be putting our resources in the same direction,” he said, noting that “these issues are still going to take time to think through and resolve.”

Something that may go a long way toward that goal, he added, is a student-led initiative to give the entire student body the opportunity to vote on a referendum to adopt a study-abroad fee of $5 per student to go toward funding scholarships for students seeking to study abroad. If the drive is successful, Brustein said, the university is considering plans to match those funds.

Brustein is hopeful that students will see the value of supporting such initiatives, as they become increasingly aware that global competence isn’t just a lofty, altruistic concept.

“Today, the workplace is truly a global workplace, and after they graduate, whether they are working in another country or in Champaign or Chicago, they are likely to require the ability to work effectively in international settings; awareness of and adaptability to diverse cultures, perceptions and approaches; familiarity with major currents of global change and the issues they raise; and the capacity for effective communication across cultural and linguistic boundaries,” he said. “Therefore, the education they receive here, whether in the arts and sciences or applied health, needs to be one that can equip students so they can be very effective in their career pursuits.”

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