UI ranks among best in global education

By Jonathan Wroble

Almost 90 percent of University students come from Illinois, but that does not keep the University from being a leader in global education.

According to statistics recently compiled by Open Doors Online, the University ranks in the top ten for three key metrics of international education: international student enrollment, number of students studying abroad and number of Title VI National Resource Centers.

“Our (international) reputation is kind of the best kept secret on campus,” said Rajeev Malik, coordinator for special projects in the Office of International Programs and Studies. “We’re not located in what’s typically viewed as an international hub.”

Compared with other national schools, the University ranks sixth in international student enrollment, eighth in students studying abroad and second in Title VI National Resource Centers, or federal grants based on a school’s foreign library materials, foreign language opportunities and globally-competent faculty members.

It is the only school in the top ten for all three parameters.

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“We’re in a great position at the University of Illinois,” said William Brustein, associate provost for international affairs. “We could be the leading global university.”

Brustein explained that international student enrollment, which has increased 66 percent in the last ten years, is a sensitive issue because of the number of deserving students in Illinois. Still, he sees it as a learning opportunity for both global and local students.

“There are many students at this University who will never get the chance to study abroad,” he said. “(Our) global students play a crucial role in internationalizing our classrooms.”

As for the study abroad program, Brustein hopes to double the number of outbound students within five years. Having studied in France and Italy, he knows personally the value of an education abroad.

“Students who have lived abroad … (are) students who do not shun challenges,” he said. “It says something about their character.”

In addition to the qualitative benefits of international education, Brustein and his colleagues agreed on the importance of financial aid to draw students to the University.

“When you compare the (University’s) excellent education with the relatively lower cost, it’s a good value,” said Julie Misa, director of international student and scholar services.

This financial side to global education underlines the significance of Title VI National Resource Centers, which Brustein named the most important of the three metrics.

Every four years, the U.S. Department of Education awards grants of up to $500,000 annually to the most competitive schools in international education. The money is meant specifically for Title VI National Resource Centers, and the University will receive more than $13 million over the next four years.

“The purpose (of National Resource Centers) is to give students, no matter what discipline, the opportunity to learn about the history of the regions of the world,” Brustein said.

Despite high ranks in various aspects of international education, Brustein still sees room for improvement. One idea, for example, is to bring his Integrated Field Trip Abroad program to the University, which he developed while at the University of Pittsburgh. It would allow students to finish off a semester course with a two-week trip abroad in order to study the course’s topic from a different perspective.

“Unless we continue to invest in these areas, we could easily fall,” he said. “We can’t rest on our laurels.”