Global Engagement Solutions for Higher Education

International Education: A Foundational Pillar for Universities with Charlie Bankart


[00:00:05] Steve MacDonald: Welcome to the Global Engagement Insights Podcast. I'm Steve McDonald, your host. Today, we've got a very special guest: Charlie Bankart, the SIO at the University of Kansas. I believe that’s a new position. You said it was only created a year and a half ago. You've termed the University of Kansas as a higher education institution that's on the move and committed to international education. And I'm going to let you talk about it, but how it's actually a foundational part of the strategy for growing the university and making a real difference. Could you describe your background and current activities? Then, we can start discussing that foundational strategy.

[00:00:49] Charlie Bankart: Sure, Steve, thanks. I said I've been in this role as senior internationalization officer for about a year and a half or so now, maybe a little longer. But I've been the SIO for or functioned in that role for about seven years. I'm just wrapping up my 19th year at the University of Kansas. Seven years ago, I became the associate vice provost for international affairs, an administrative leadership office that houses the Applied English Center. This fully accredited intensive English program enables K.U. to admit students regardless of their English proficiency. We look at their academic admissibility and access based on that, not whether or not they've had the privilege and opportunity to develop college-ready English before arrival. We have an excellent study abroad in the global engagement office in international affairs and an international support office that supports international students and visiting scholars. Our newest division of international short programs does more entrepreneurial short program development for anything from high school students to mid-career professionals to faculty development programs, where we're aligning KU's expertise and passions with the needs and interests of people from around the world in cohorts and programs. Then I've got a very small administrative unit within international affairs that manages that process overall; what changed a year and a half ago, and this came at the tail end of a 2-year engagement with the ACE internationalization lab, was the raising of our office from an associate vice provost position to part of the executive leadership team of the university at the vice provost level, and then my appointment to the role of senior internationalization officer which speaks to the dual role that I now have of managing a significant division of the university with all of its complexities and roles. But linking it intimately and strategically to the institution's broader internationalization efforts, raising awareness, advocating for positive change, and advocating for our place and involvement in the world around us, that's where I sit now. But it comes after 19 years of investment in international education at KU and a deep passion and commitment to that work. There are some ups and downs along the way that make today very special.

[00:03:22] Steve MacDonald: You talked about that laboratory and that having gone through COVID, you had the opportunity to rethink international education and its role in the institution and the overall mission of the University. Tell us a little about that, what you learned, and what path set you on.

[00:03:41] Charlie Bankart: Sure. This may sound a bit cheesy, and anyone who knows me knows I can get cheesy, so forgive me for this. What happened, the start of this journey for us will endear me to the University of Kansas for the rest of my life. In the spring of 2020, we began to understand what this pandemic was and how it would impact all of us, particularly international education, which is so connected to inbound and outbound mobility at all levels and collaborative research. It's what we do, and the university's mission is intimately connected to it. Everything came to a halt. At the same time, Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer joined the University of Kansas community. In my first meeting with her, she took me aside and asked me if I would be interested in partnering with her on an application to the American Council on Education's internationalization lab. For those who don't know, that is an institutional investment in a two-year process. The first year is about structuring an intensive self-study of your institution and the strengths, challenges, and opportunities before you. It is about examining the perspectives and passions of your community to see how we're aligned and where we might strengthen those alignments toward a specific set of goals that are deeply us. Our provost and executive vice chancellor were the champions and executive sponsors for that, and that was the very first thing we talked about on the Lawrence campus upon her arrival. It was in the vestibule of the provost's office as we shook hands. This conversation began to unfold. It was an incredibly rewarding process. What we found—and I will not say it was easy or rewarding or that it was all positive—was rewarding in understanding more fully the breadth and depth of the international work that's happening, the power of that work, our capacity to be engaged in the work, and the capacity that we are already leveraging to commit to contributing to the world, and the realization that because I think internationalization, international education had been somewhat peripheralized in the past and not part of a structured planning process. An honest evaluation toward iterative improvement. We were missing many opportunities, so the lab was an opportunity to assess where we were and what opportunities we could pursue. Then, we will begin to structure a plan to get us toward a vision that maps well to KU's passion, our unique contributions to the world, and what they could be. It was a fascinating process, engaging hundreds of faculties, staff, and students across campus. We had to put the words of John Hudson in anyone's ears. Still, a person whose scholarship I look up to from a comprehensive internationalization perspective, getting that institutional commitment from the leadership of this institution is something that many of us work hard at and try to advocate for; sometimes, we're successful, and sometimes, we're not. It's usually a long journey, but it certainly has been. If I look at the history of the University of Kansas, it was there on day one when Provost Pickle Meyer started, and she voiced that through her first engagement with me. And that's gotten us to a pretty exciting place today.

[00:07:35] Steve MacDonald: You said many really important things there. You said that in the past, and many universities, international education has been peripheralized. Therefore, many folks who lead the global education office are constantly fighting. Fighting for their rightful seed, fighting for resources, and fighting for the internal relationships that they need to be successful. The result of this process you went through put international education as 1 of the five foundational pillars at the University of Kansas. If you could explain those pillars, why was international education a foundational pillar of the entire university?

[00:08:25] Charlie Bankart: I will let everybody know that this doesn't mean we have stopped the fight for resources. This doesn't mean that I'm 100% centrally funded. I'm about 17% centrally funded. We still have a lot of structural challenges. But what's different is our place at the table. As you said, the emphasis on institutional alignment and the consistent focus on internationalization are core foundations for planning at the university level, and every dean and vice provost is expected to speak about that and their planning. The five pillars are fairly standard for us, I think, for many institutions, except the internationalization piece, which I think is the most important pillar. That's what I'm most involved with. However, the others are what we have as a foundation for our institution, and I think this is important as a public institution with an access mission. Our foundational pillar focuses on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging alongside internationalization. We are committed to ensuring that we adhere to our responsibilities to the state of Kansas and our Kansas Board of Regents. Our accredited status with the Higher Learning Commission is part of our bread and butter. We have to ensure that our learning outcomes are clear and that we intentionally build an educational program at every step of the way, a set of outcomes that map to the promises that we've made as an accredited institution. We are also a member of the Association of American Universities because of the strength of our scholarship and research engagement and our capacities as an R1 institution, and that's a critical driver for us because it funds our research in terms of having access to federal and other funds to support the scholarship that's happening here and the discovery efforts that are happening here. I think it's critical for us. When we look at those things, the AU, our Kansas Board of Regents commitment, our higher learning commission commitment, diversity and equity, inclusion and belonging, and internationalization, in some ways, become the fabric that enfolds all of that and begins to speak to the spirit of the institution which we're serving. And me, that ties right back into our mission as a university. This was always international. That was the thing that sometimes I felt disjointed about because sometimes I felt like we were somewhat peripheralized. Still, our mission is to educate leaders, build healthy communities, and make discoveries that change the world. The world is right there in the mission. Then, when I look at our vision, it's to be an exceptional learning committee that lifts each member in advance of society. And when I think about culture and the advancement of society, I don't think about borders. I think about society as a collective presence and a collective responsibility. And when you're an institution that overall is 7% international. We've got 117 nationalities enrolled at KU. Our faculty come from about 140 or so countries around the world. We are of the world. Then, when I look at the research on outbound mobility, 30% of our students do education abroad before they graduate. We're off for the world and actively getting out there and being engaged. We need to have the mission, vision, and pillars for planning aligned in that way and focus on the power of our international engagement. The reason for that is that I keep pinching myself because it's extraordinary.

[00:12:16] Steve MacDonald: When you and I first talked about this, I commented that in many universities, international education is treated more like a program, right? Where these foundational pillars you're talking about, they feel like values, they feel like gold, they think like mandates. International education is proper in there. We had an SIO on the podcast a few weeks back who said that if you don't have an international education goal or mandate as a university, you're not a real university. I just wanted to get your opinion on that. Is that kind of a statement? How important that is to the university? Would you agree with that?

[00:12:57] Charlie Bankart: I would alter it a little bit. I agree with the statement. In one respect, if you were unable to engage with the world, yes, you wouldn't be a real university. I think the question is, is there a university out there that isn't engaged with the world? Because I think it's impossible. So, whether the institution recognizes it, embraces it, invests in it, thinks about it, and integrates it into its planning with intentionality, whether or not it cares about the outcomes, its connection, contribution, and commitment to the world are all part of that planning, decision matrix, and identity. Not every institution articulates that in its mission or vision statement. Not every institution has a plan where 1 of the pillars is internationalization. But if you talk about it, who are your students? Where are your future students? I would guess that very few institutions would say our students are within the continental United States or if they think about their research and what they do for their research mission by connecting colleagues through partnerships, research partnerships, or industry partnerships. I doubt that they would exclude talent from institutions in other countries. There's a difference, I think, between recognition and being planful and intentional. All our institutions, big and small, are integrally connected to the world.

[00:14:32] Steve MacDonald: Generally, universities are experiencing enrollment declines. The enrollment cliff is coming up, and you're talking about our students not being just in the United States. They're not just in the state of Kansas. Is there a very practical aspect of why international education is a foundational pillar? In terms of the overall growth and the vitality of the institution itself.

[00:15:02] Charlie Bankart: Yeah, absolutely. I think I'll give you some examples from an enrollment perspective. One of our areas of planning priority is student success, and a big part of that is increasing enrollment. Like many states nationwide, Kansas is heading toward an enrollment cliff. That means we have to look at other states and think about strategies to situate Kansas in the eyes of future students. But we have to look more broadly, and when you begin to pan out, you will think about the fact that the U.S. higher education system is the largest in the world. The most diverse institutionally in the world, we have the capacity and will have more capacity because of our domestic enrollment cliff that we're approaching. You think about the lack of capacity at a global level, not even necessarily global, but precisely international level, and the centuries that it will take other countries to develop the kinds of capacity, we have here in the United States for our citizens. Suddenly, you begin to see that enrollment is about inclusion. Enrollment is about outreach. Enrollment is about diversifying your curriculum and the outcomes and how we think about the life trajectory of human beings—and ensuring that we're creating a context that is as deep and broad as possible so that others see themselves and their futures connected to our institutions. From that perspective, India surpassed China as the most populous country on the planet. They have a fraction of the higher education capacity that we have, and millions and millions of people don't have access. That's an opportunity, and it's an opportunity for India. It's an opportunity for the United States and many different nations worldwide. Higher education can be a bridge to the ultimate goal of peace, understanding, and building empathy. On the research side, I would add that I don't know if you followed what the EU has been doing under the Horizon Europe platform. Still, they're essentially looking at sustainable development goals under the broad umbrella of the United Nations. Creating and funding research consortia across the EU that focus on the major challenges of our day is something that we're doing at the University of Kansas. We've got research themes that are very well aligned with the European Union's interests and national priorities across Latin America and the Middle East across the continents of Africa, Southeast Asia, East Asia, and South Asia. What we're looking at from a research capacity perspective is that we have faculty members who have amazing research programs. They're entirely funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the National Endowment for the Humanities, or the Department of Defense; what have you? Then we have these colleagues with whom they're already connected worldwide and who are already tapped into producing stellar world-class research with different funding mechanisms. We're trying not to gain EU funding but to connect the funding and talent we have working on the questions and develop a multifaceted, multidimensional, multidisciplinary approach through the building of transnational consortia. That's inherently international and right. As I think about knowledge networks, what we're trying to do with the University of Kansas through research engagement internationally is create a network of networks, understanding that the more we work with our existing knowledge networks, the more redundant that knowledge becomes. As soon as we connect to a different network, a whole world of opportunity opens up in our discovery process, where the innovation of new ideas, capacities, and other investments can inform the work that we're doing. So I think it behooves us all, from a research perspective, from an enrollment perspective, to think about our contributions and obligations to society and connect with the world.

[00:19:15] Steve MacDonald: You cannot separate international education globalization from the university. Yeah, and I think putting it as part of one of the foundational pillars is a testament to that. But then there's a practical part of this now that you talked about: Every Dean has an actual requirement to include international education as part of their five-year plan. Now, I know some other SIOs and leaders have just started to drool, but can you tell us just a little about that and why that's so important?

[00:19:48] Charlie Bankart: It's a great question. I will say at the outset that we're starting this process. We're not there yet. One of the things that I keep having to remind myself of is that I'm the senior internationalization officer. It is my job to understand what internationalization is. I have deep capacities for the units that comprise international affairs. We have to meet people where they are. We have to provide context. I can't expect every dean or every vice provost on campus to be the consummate internationalization advocate and professional. We're laden with baggage, terminology, and data, just as everyone is in their respective areas. We have to know that information and advocate effectively. But what's changed here is our alignment. So, think about our leadership in terms of academic leadership, our deans, and our administrative leadership. Those of us in that vice provost cabinet of the institution—all of us have our respective areas of involvement, control, and obligation. But the provost was quite clear to us all: it's a part of your job, and she said this to the deans as an example: 90% of the time, I expect you to be running your schools at 10 percent of that; I need you to be focused on this institution and how what you do fits into the broader institutional space. I think that for administrative leadership, it may be reversed in a different balance. But when you think about alignment across all of us, the 5 pillars, including internationalization, are the foundational areas that each of us has to speak to. Then, we have to set goals for three areas of priority, articulate outcome expectations for, and report on in terms of incremental improvement. Those are student success, community engagement, support, and research and discovery. So, in November, December, and January, every dean and every vice provost present to all the deans, all the vice provost to the chancellor to the provost to our CFO, all the vice provost and vice-chancellors. We must speak to our plans as they contribute to student success, research and discovery, and community engagement. As we talk about those goals, we have to say whether or not they fit into internationalization or serve our commitment to the Higher Learning Commission. What is it doing for the state of Kansas? It’s putting on the diversity, equity, and inclusion lands. How is this contributing to us as an inclusive and diverse community where people feel that they belong and are supported? How does this fit into our responsibilities in terms of our membership in the AU? It’s a really interesting matrix and we all use the same format. We imbue that with meaning and context based on the units we oversee. If I were the dean of engineering, I would be talking about enrollment. Still, I also want to talk about the importance of diversity in my student population, and international students are a component of thinking about intersectionality as a component of that diversity. I need to think about research—who's doing that research, how we're funding it, whether we're enabling it, and whether it means connecting with other partners around the world. It's not that people haven't been doing this work, but the framework, the intentionality, and the calling out of these dimensions bring attention to it and focus, and with that, the capacity to plan for it. I'm looking at some of the longstanding resources I've had through partnership because there's an item on the grid related to internationalization and a colleague where I can say. The funding that I have will support your work in this particular area because we have shared interests. All of a sudden, we both have capacities, opportunities, and resources that we hadn't had before because we've never connected the dots. So, we're starting to see better coordination, stronger efficiencies, and, I think, more responsible stewardship of our resources, which is having an exponentially positive impact on our capacity to get things done. A narrative that is more inclusive of the institution's different priorities at the same time, as opposed to my priority, is more important than yours. You have shared priorities, right? We have shared priorities, and not all of them are shared priorities. But I will say that I find myself increasingly hard-pressed to find unique priorities in only hours. There's a deep opportunity here across the board for connection building.

[00:24:45] Steve MacDonald: So that connection building, usually an international education office, is looking to make internal champions. This is now part of every dean's mandate. International education is part of what they need to plan and implement. How does that change the role of the global education office? Many international education offices spend so much time advocating that I've had S I Ohs tell me it's the hat I never take off. That's the number one thing that I do as an SIO. How has this changed your role as an SIO?

[00:25:25] Charlie Bankart: The advocacy hat is on forever. That certainly hasn't changed. But the day

[00:28:43] Steve MacDonald: Let me ask you about the brand of advocacy you were talking about there. You talked about the data and put together some information that the deans don't necessarily have on their own. A lot of offices go out and try to advocate and get these internal champions. They're trying to bolster the importance of the international education program. It sounded like you were doing there as you took it from the position of let's look at what you're already doing. What opportunity is on the table, and how to help you succeed more? That's an advocacy. It's also like a pitch: ‘Hey, here's what we can do for you. Is that different from your knowledge of how international education offices typically do advocacy in this country?’

[00:29:36] Charlie Bankart: It sure feels like it. When you put it that way, it resonates. It helps me reflect on this special place that we're in. As institutions, we often talk about centering our work on our students. And I think that's critical. We're not here for anyone but our students; they're the foundation of everything we do in education. I would say, we are all students, we're all lifelong learners engaged in that learning process. Creating a vibrant community that supports that is critical. But just as we need to center ourselves on our students, I think it's essential for international educators to center themselves in and validate themselves within the work of others. So, we often talk about translating research and its value to diverse audiences and getting away from the jargon and technical terms because what we do matters. The same is true for internationalization, where if I take what we do, I can textualize it to promote our research mission. I can textualize it as integral to our enrollment management strategy, acquisition retention, and students' success, or we have a service contribution for every faculty member here. We care about the community and want to give back to it. We are a state institution with state investment because we are obligated to the outside world, including Kansas. To be more effective than that, there are these dimensions to internationalization. What we're doing is adding to the context, the work, and the success that is so important to our colleagues across the board. In a sense, it's self-interest. But it's actualized through contextualizing and serving the interests of others around us, recognizing we're not an island. I know I'm lucky in that I still have to advocate for resources for our division, I have to think about budgets, and we're always working on a dime. I don't have to defend our existence, which gives me the time to take the things we have in our existence and put them to use in the service of others.

[00:32:00] Steve MacDonald: I want to accentuate that we spent the whole first part of this podcast talking about how intertwined the university is with the world. You can't separate international education from them and all those benefits. Why wouldn't an advocacy program take those benefits and turn them into saying to this dean and this dean? Here's how we're helping you and, therefore, how you're helping us and the rest of the world. I think it's a fresh perspective. I'm really glad that you brought that up. I think the work that you're doing is absolutely amazing. The one question that I have left for you today is that we've covered a lot of territory, but if there was one thing that you wanted your peers to take away from this podcast today, what would that be?

[00:32:59] Charlie Bankart: I think it's really important to remember that institutions are always in a state of change. We have good times and bad times. Our field of international education, I think, is uniquely susceptible to externalities beyond our control. Regardless of those things that we can't control, the work that we do remains important. A context emerges that embraces our work and situates it in a positive space for institutional transformation season. It's not easy. I went home really tired, but I also slept soundly because it was an important day for us. I don't know what the future will bring from a leadership perspective, an enrollment perspective, a health perspective, possibly pandemics, all that stuff. Those are all on notes. But I can say that the people in our field are committed. They're passionate. It's worth it to continue the advocacy in any way you can. But I think there's some magic in taking the time to step back and situate what you do as crucial in the service of the goals of others. And I think even if the tides change here a little bit, the bridges that we have built through collaboration and experiencing success where international was a contributing factor to a more holistic vision for what it is to be a university. That's going to sustain us. We will have advocates in reciprocity because of that work here now. But I don't think you have to wait for that. I believe there are people across our institutions who care about what we do and tell us that all the time. Some days, it may be more important to advocate for them, support them, and give them tools to join advocacy.

[00:35:19] Steve MacDonald: Charlie, I just want to say thank you for coming and sharing all these insights. If folks had questions, would it be appropriate to give them a link to get in touch with you?

[00:35:32] Charlie Bankart: Yeah, I would be delighted to. Yeah, we are kindred spirits. We're a community of advocates doing really important work. I learned so much from my colleagues around the country and around the world. If I can share insights from the KU experience, I'd be delighted to do that.

[00:35:48] Steve MacDonald: Fantastic. Thank you. Thank you for coming on and sharing and enlightening us in many ways. I appreciate it.

[00:35:55] Charlie Bankart: It's been a pleasure. It's an absolute pleasure.