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Internationalisation Strategies for Organisations

Benefits and Challenges

Between May and July 2015, 520 representatives from educational institutions in more than 30 countries, including all of the EU Member States, participated in an online survey on the internationalisation and Europeanisation of their organisations. The condensed Statistical Report from the survey can be found here. The survey focussed on questions which addressed the perceived benefits and challenges of internationalisation and Europeanisation strategies. The top 5 benefits and the top 5 challenges are summarised below.

Top 5 Benefits

The opportunities offered to organisations that develop internationally

1. Survey results suggest that Europeanisation strategies contribute to the development of new skills for the staff and learners of an organisation.

These strategies broaden the horizon and thinking of the staff involved. They contribute towards the enrichment of their knowledge and skills, either through formal learning measures such as training, seminars, traineeships and job shadowing, or through non-formal learning measures such as participation in consortia, conferences, meetings and visits.
Even those staff who do not directly participate in these activities seem to develop positively as a result of others who are committed, thus enabling the organisation as a whole to profit from them. Alongside this, the opportunity for gaining experience abroad acts as a significant motivator for staff within an organisation. More than ever before, the European Union offers the opportunity to complete international “mobilities”. The learners (for example apprentices in SMEs) who seize this opportunity develop their characters and their skills (for example language skills), thereby increasing their employability.

2. Organisations can gain access to new and important knowledge through international networking.

Thanks to European cooperation, organisations – in particular educational institutions – have the chance to learn from other organisations, to benchmark their performance, to exchange new ideas and to be more innovative. By gaining this knowledge, these organisations tend to be more competitive and develop more rapidly. They continually improve and deliberately choose to compete with the best organisations in order to eventually become forerunners themselves.

3. Becoming international – or European – offers organisations the chance to access new sources of funding.

Although the education sector in most countries still largely depends on national and local sources of funding, organisations should consider supra-national or extra-national financial opportunities as additional sources of funding, for example in order to support their international partnerships or develop new products and services. By diversifying their funding portfolio, financial risks are minimised. Attractive as these alternative sources of funding are, organisations should never consider them as a goal in and of themselves. Deploying a European strategy is always an investment: these new sources of funding should only help to cover this investment.

4. International development has a positive influence on an organisation’s reputation.

Mentioned by two thirds of participants in this survey, this benefit of Europeanisation or internationalisation strategies has two impacts. Firstly, an organisation with some international or European references will positively affect the external stakeholders such as clients, suppliers, partners and sponsors because it will inspire respect, quality and reliability. Secondly, it will develop pride and loyalty amongst staff and make the organisation itself more appealing. When an organisation’s ultimate goal is to internationalise or Europeanise their Unique Selling Propositions (USP), this strategy will often increase the motivation of their members.

5. Europeanisation or internationalisation strategies have traditionally been used as a way to gain access to new markets or develop new products and services.

The education sector is concerned with this as much as any other competitive sector. As the demand for such products and services becomes increasingly international, supply should follow this trend. This international dimension is often central to start-ups from the outset. For more traditional companies, internationalising their products and services is, alongside digitalisation, their assurance of durability.

Top 5 Challenges

The obstacles facing organisations that develop internationally

1. The biggest concern of the 520 participants in this survey finding reliable international partners for cooperation.

Finding reliable partners is difficult, especially at the beginning of a process of Europeanisation, since an organisation has no international references to offer in return. Initial cooperative projects are, therefore, often uneven at the beginning. “Newcomers” on the international stage may have to accept hard conditions imposed by an experienced consortium leader in order to gain in return some experience and enlarge their network. As organisations develop, their partnerships must evolve to suit their new needs. In summary, the greatest difficulty is to control simultaneously all parameters: the changing goals of the organisation, the changing composition of its partnerships and the changing staff requirements.

2. Organisations may struggle to establish and maintain project management practices which are valid at all levels and suitable for all employees.

Whilst international and European cooperation often takes the form of projects, organisations are simultaneously still carrying out their national and local projects. This requires appropriate project management, a discipline which is applicable to the education sector as with any other field of activity. However, not all education institutions are project-oriented. Through international and European cooperation these organisations will become little by little acquainted with professional project management practices. That is the positive aspect. As these organisations develop, their project management maturity must also advance to the next stage. That is the challenge. Adopting project management methods and standards is only one step towards this aim. Organisations should eventually consider establishing Project Management Offices (PMO).

A PMO is a group within an organisation that defines and maintains project management standards. The PMO aims to introduce and standardise economies of repetition for project implementation. The PMO provides documentation, guidance and metrics for practical project management and implementation.

3. Any Europeanisation or internationalisation strategy should be the result of a strong strategic decision consistent with changes in an organisation´s culture, beliefs and values.

Taking this strategic decision is a considerable challenge, but overcoming it can turn out to be a key enabler for an organisation. The first milestone is passed when the board of directors consciously decides to make a shift from an erratic and opportunity-based approach of international or European cooperation and instead embeds a well-planned roadmap within the organisation’s strategy. A second milestone is then reached when the employees share this same vision and accept the new goals which have been developed by the board. Building this acceptance may take months. After years, the organisation’s culture will eventually be transformed. This might, for example, be the strategy of partly adopting English as a working language.

4. Developing internationally is an opportunity, but also a risk. Only with solid financial management will you be able to undertake this risk.

As previously mentioned, deploying a European strategy is always an investment. It will take years until this investment brings in a profit, especially if an organisation is starting from a zero point of internationalisation. Improving the ability of staff to act internationally (e.g. through learning, recruitment, appropriate salaries, etc.) is likely to be the most expensive cost for the organisation, not to mention the cost of unsuccessful partnerships or projects. As a first step, financial management staff must be well acquainted with the financial practices, obligations and risks inherent to a Europeanisation and internationalisation strategy. This relies on these personnel being well informed by the managing staff and vice versa.

5. Human resources are obviously the key to successful Europeanisation or internationalisation strategies.

Their recruitment and management is, therefore, one of the biggest challenges for organisations. Language skills are clearly the primary necessary skills. A thorough grasp of business English is the most obvious one: this requires the ability to use English in complex contexts including public speaking, crisis and risk management and, above all, in an organisation’s specific field of expertise. Using key terms incorrectly and expressing oneself poorly, whether in speech or writing, could unintentionally – but disastrously – convey a bad image of the organisation and its members. As a result, this could negatively impact the reputation of the organisation and the motivation of its members for international work.

Conclusion

Organisations – primarily their senior management – must analyse the pros and cons of Europeanisation or internationalisation for their organisations. If, on balance, such strategies appear favourable, they must then provide a clear impetus. Deploying such strategies should begin with a shift of the organisation’s vision, mission and overall strategy. Following this, organisations must investigate which areas seem to be most “ready” for change. As indicated in the German National Agency of the Erasmus+ programme and quoted in the Results of the Survey, “internationalisation can start at different points. […] It is not always a good idea to tackle every single issue at the same time”.
Concrete tips are given here for how to practically deploy Europeanisation and internationalisation strategies.