Global Engagement Solutions for Higher Education


The Importance of Data and Storytelling in International Education Advocacy

May 8, 2024


From a podcast interview with Meredith McQuaid, an International Education Consultant & Strategic Advisor with over 15 years of SIO experience.

Key Takeaways

  • Effective advocacy for international education requires both storytelling and data-driven approaches.
  • Data is crucial in making a case for more resources and support, especially when engaging with university administrators and budgetary decision-makers.
  • A digital infrastructure that centralizes and controls data is essential for effective storytelling and advocacy.
  • Building coalitions among international educators is important to create a sense of strength in numbers and promote better within individual units or colleges.
  • Comprehensive internationalization is an ongoing process that requires constant maintenance and promotion.

The Power of Data in International Education Advocacy

Data plays a vital role in advocating for international education programs within universities. While storytelling is an effective way to engage and inspire, it is often the data that convinces decision-makers to allocate resources. Meredith McQuaid, an experienced international education leader, emphasizes the importance of data when seeking additional funding. University CFOs are primarily concerned with the financial impact of international education programs rather than students' personal stories. Therefore, presenting data highlighting international students' financial benefits can be more persuasive in securing funding.

A digital infrastructure that centralizes data is essential for effective storytelling and advocacy. By eliminating silos and manual data entry, international education leaders can have better control over the data and use it to support their arguments. This allows for more accurate and comprehensive storytelling, which can be tailored to different audiences within the university.

The Art of Storytelling in International Education Advocacy

While data is crucial, storytelling remains a powerful tool in international education advocacy. Different stakeholders within the university respond to different types of storytelling. McQuaid highlights the importance of tailoring the storytelling approach based on the audience. Some individuals may be more receptive to data-driven presentations, while personal stories of impact may move others.

When advocating for international education, engaging the deans and other university leaders is essential. By presenting data that compares their departments to others, international education leaders can motivate them to support and promote international education within their respective areas. This collaborative approach builds a coalition of advocates who can approach the university president together, reinforcing the importance of international education.

International education leaders must be skilled at gauging their audience and adapting their storytelling approach. They need to be prepared with data when speaking to certain groups and share impactful stories when data alone may not be enough. Being a successful international education leader requires navigating between factual, data-driven presentations and more emotionally compelling narratives.

Building Coalitions and Fostering Collaboration

To gain the attention and support of university leaders, international education advocates must build coalitions and foster collaboration among international educators. McQuaid emphasizes the importance of bringing international educators from different colleges and departments together to create a sense of strength in numbers. This collaboration motivates individuals and encourages them to explore new opportunities for international education within their units.

At the University of Minnesota, for example, a system-wide conference called “Our Own Mini NAFSA” brings together international educators from different campuses. This conference allows participants to share their experiences, discuss challenges, and learn from one another. The sense of camaraderie and shared purpose that emerges from such events can significantly impact the promotion of international education within the university system.

Maintaining and nurturing this sense of community is an ongoing effort. International education leaders must constantly work to ensure that international education remains connected across the university system, both horizontally and vertically. This comprehensive approach ensures that international education is valued and prioritized at all levels of the university hierarchy.


Advocating for international education in universities requires both data-driven analysis and compelling storytelling. While data informs decisions and secures funding, storytelling engages stakeholders. Leaders must excel in both, tailoring their approach to their audience and goals. Building coalitions among educators is crucial, as fostering collaboration to promote international education's importance. By creating community and shared purpose, leaders motivate advocates and highlight its value. Though comprehensive internationalization is ongoing, dedicated leaders are shifting campus dynamics, ensuring international education stays a priority through data, storytelling, and collaboration.

To catch the full interview with Meredith, CLICK HERE.