In 1994, scholar Jane Knight advanced a definition of internationalization that has become highly cited and recognized. Knight has also updated her definition several times. Knight defined internationalization as organizational and process-oriented, as a relatively neutral flow of international content into the mission and activities of universities. Knight’s 2004 definition from her highly cited Journal of Studies in International Education article was such:

the process of integrating an international, intercultural or global dimension into the purpose, functions or delivery of post-secondary education.

Knight, 2004

Knight’s focus on “process” and “international, intercultural, or global dimensions” was highly influential. For Knight, internationalization was a continuous, unending process — a singular method by which institutions gradually became more international, intercultural, or global in orientation. Knight’s definition fit well with similar definitions of “comprehensive internationalization” emerging from the American Council on Education, European Association of International Education, NAFSA: Association of International Educators, and other entities in the 1990s and 2000s. Comprehensive internationalization captured the holistic nature of weaving together the international and global dimensions of universities, rather than the piecemeal approach of former decades. It revived new energy into internationalization strategies at the institutional level as well as the national or sector levels.

By focusing on process, Knight also captured interest in process-models at the time. Although Knight did not intend her definition to be technocratic, her definition sometimes was interpreted in technocratic, quality-assurance terms that can be described as neo-liberal. Knight was careful in her article to avoid the terms “outcomes” or “inputs” in order to be more “generic” but this did not prevent institutions or organizations from defining internationalization in that fashion.

After the 2008 financial crisis and other global developments, Knight and other scholars began recognizing “unintended consequences” of internationalization defined in this way. Shortly, after, international education scholars took a “Critical Turn” and critical approaches emerged as serious challenges to the Knight definition.

In 2015, several scholars formed an “Internationalization for Society” effort to expand the Knight definition to include elements of ethics and societal benefit.

For a comprehensive analysis of the Knight definition and critiques, see the chapter:

– “The Evolving Definitions of Internationalization: The Question of Values.” Co-Author with Hans de Wit, Fiona Hunter, Douglas Proctor. The Handbook of International Higher Education, 2nd Edition. SAGE, 2021.

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