“Internationalization for Society” is a recent effort to reframe or extend the Knight definition of internationalization toward betterment for society. Announced in a 2015 article for the European Parliament (de Wit, Hunter, Howard, and Egron-Polak, 2015), “internationalization for society” keeps the Knight definition in tact but adds ethical and societal components as the goals of internationalization:

“The intentional process of integrating an international, intercultural or global dimension into the purpose, functions and delivery of post-secondary education, in order to enhance the quality of education and research for all students and staff, and to make a meaningful contribution to society.”

As Leask and de Gayardon (2021) note, “the 2015 definition is the first to emphasize the nature of the relationship between internationalization and society, describing it as being to intentionally make a ‘meaningful contribution to society.’ This clearly extends the impact of internationalization beyond the confines of the academy.” Internationalization for society, then, makes it clear that the goal of internationalization is societal impact, societal change, or ethical contributions. While this shift has implications for program design and assessment (foregrounding, perhaps, impacts on communities), it also attempts to keep a single definition of “internationalization” in tact, rather than the multiple and pluralistic definitions that critical scholars promote.

Leask and de Gayardon, then, see the evolution of the Knight definition as one of correcting some of the misconceptions or unintended consequences of the original definitions. They see the progression this way:

Courtesy Leask and de Gayardon, 2021 / Journal of Studies in International Education

This “societal” approach to the Knight definition of internationalization has led to some significant changes in policy and practice in recent years. In the last few years, global educators have put more emphasis on sustainable development, climate change implications, and ethical contributions to communities, as well as social justice and social change. There is evidence that the societal approach leads to more sustainable and equitable outcomes. Yet, at the same time, internationalization for society does not necessarily acknowledge epistemic differences or fundamental inequities in what “society” means.

References and Further Reading

Brandenburg U., de Wit H., Jones E., Leask B., Drobner A. (2020). Internationalisation in Higher Education for Society (IHES). Concept, current research and examples of good practice [DAAD studies]. German Academic Exchange Service.

de Wit H., Hunter F., Howard L., Egron-Polak E. (2015). Internationalisation of higher education. European Parliament.

Jones, E., Leask, B., Brandenburg, U., & de Wit, H. (2021). Global Social Responsibility and the Internationalisation of Higher Education for Society. Journal of Studies in International Education25(4), 330–347.

Leask, B., & de Gayardon, A. (2021). Reimagining Internationalization for Society. Journal of Studies in International Education25(4), 323–329. https://doi.org/10.1177/10283153211033667

Marginson S. (2016). Higher education and the common good. Melbourne University Publishing.

Ramaswamy, M., Marciniuk, D. D., Csonka, V., Colò, L., & Saso, L. (2021). Reimagining Internationalization in Higher Education Through the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for the Betterment of Society. Journal of Studies in International Education25(4), 388–406. https://doi.org/10.1177/10283153211031046


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