International Activities

More than 50 years ago, the University of Pittsburgh began to foster international research and education and created in 1968 the University Center for International Studies (UCIS) as the encompassing framework for the University’s multidisciplinary international programs. Overtime, UCIS became home to area studies centers that were designated National Resource Centers by the U.S. Department of Education’s Title VIProgram, and eventually it added one of only 10 European Union Centers of Excellence in the United States.

Planning, Assessment, and Links to Institutional Goals

UCIS regularly assessed its impact by using benchmarking and external reviews to look at its regionally defined centers and other programs. Benchmarking assessment against other institutions compared such categories as number of centers, percentage of students studying abroad, percentage of international students, and other subject areas that helped to shape the goals of the unit.

As shown in its benchmarking reports, Pitt has long been one of the most internationally focused universities in the country. Success inconsistently obtaining Title VI funding, for example, provided a national benchmark for Pitt’s standing in international studies. Pitt has won Title VI National Resource Center and Center for International Business Education and Research competitions 24 times in the past 15 years. Only 10 other U.S. universities, both public and private, have won more of those designations than Pitt during that time. Another example from the most recent data available for undergraduates who study abroad shows Pittat 28 percent, well above its comparison peers at 20 percent and above its aspirational peers at 26 percent.

In the last decade or two, the increasing importance of international dimensions for the University as a whole became more evident as research and teaching recognized the phenomenon of globalization. The University acknowledged that an international perspective was critical to its mission; a 1996 resolution of the Board of Trustees talked about the skills “essential to success in our modern global society” and emphasized the importance of “encouragingmore Pitt students to include study abroad experiences in their own undergraduate planning." University leaders also recognized that, in order to be successful, they needed more than just the engagement of UCIS; they needed the engagement of all of the schools and units. To foster expanded thinking about the international dimension of the University’s offerings, in the early 2000s, the Provost requested that each of the Pittsburgh campus schools and units, as well as regional campuses, include an international component in their strategic and annual plans.

Despite the willing and effective inclusion of international programs into the plans of the individual schools, it was recognized that many opportunities can be realized only by cooperative efforts of multiple University units. For this reason, the Provost in 2004 reconvened the International Coordinating Council (ICC), a group chaired by the Provost that includes all major stakeholders. Similar in approach to his creation of the Information Technology Steering Committee to develop a long-range technology plan, the Provost brought together the members of ICC primarily to develop a long-range strategic plan for the University’s international efforts.

For the first few years of its new life, ICC worked to coordinate school planning. After many schools had made progress in cooperation with each other, in April 2009, the Provost requested that a subcommittee of ICC, led by the senior director of UCIS, develop a University-wide international plan for consideration.The result of the work of the subcommittee is The University of Pittsburgh International Plan Framework 8, which can be considered the strategic plan for international activities at the University. The plan has three goals, which support the University’s long-term goals: improve the global competence of Pitt students; increase international and interdisciplinary research opportunities for Pitt faculty; and help to fulfill the University’s obligations to its city, region, and nation and to the world.

Improving and Defining a Sustainable Assessment Practice

Soon after the approval of the plan by ICC, a retreat of the Council of Deans in early 2010 was devoted entirely to a discussion of the International Plan Framework. The agenda included four panels that addressed the following topics:

  • how to be more strategic about choices of programs, partners, locations, and activities; 
  • developing priorities, policies, and procedures and a clearly understood decision structure to facilitate institutional decisionmaking; 
  • improving communications about University international programs and activities by improving information access both inside and outside the University;
  • agreeing on aprocess for assessing progress toward the international plan’s three terminal goals.

Some of the discussion for implementation of the international plan centered on setting the criteria for new partnerships; leveraging locations with an existing Pitt or University of Pittsbugh Medical Center presence, including a strong alumni base; developing meaningful policies and procedures that would enable various initiatives to be reviewed at different levels; and developing new policies for health, safety, and security abroad.

One full session of the meeting was devoted to assessment. One segment focused on how the schools and units could articulate appropriate goals and strategies for their units, align assessment with those goals, and measure their progress. Examples of goals included recruiting students who can contribute to international goals, exposing students to other cultures and global issues, graduating students who can engage in a global society, and increasing faculty engagement with international research. Examples of appropriate assessments for units' international goals included identifying useful instruments, inventories, and surveys, such as the Global Competence Aptitude Assessment and the Intercultural Development Inventory; documenting the number of dissertations and master’s projects that have an international focus; identifying faculty publications, grants, presentations, and collaborations on international projects; and tracking alumni who are working in international settings, organizations, or positions.

Another segment on assessment, presided over by the president of a regional campus, focused on how that campus will assess global competence, progress in applied international research, and service obligations.

A final segment on assessment was from the point of view of the head of one of the professional schools. The discussion focused on how the schools of the health sciences, subject to specialized professional accreditation, should approach the question “What should be our process of assessingprogress toward internationalization?” A final outcome of the Council of Deans retreat was a commitment to two actions going forward: a reaffirmation that every annual plan will include a section on international goals with a system of assessment in order to gauge progress toward those goals and an agreement that all undergraduate programs will have global competence as a learning outcome with anassessment component.

When the planning instructions were sent out in fall 2010 by the vice provost for budget and planning, they stated that “the Provost has encouraged that particular attention be paid this year to continued progress in the international area.” A review of the plans in spring 2011 revealed that almost all schools and campuses had included both international goals and global competence (with measurements) in their plans, that strong targets had been set, and that some schools were already starting to show results. At the University level, the international plan implementation also included increasing the proportion of international undergraduates on the Pittsburgh campus; developing more strategic partnerships and relationships in priority regions of the world; opening an office in Beijing, China; and strengthening policies and operations to support international efforts.

While it is too early to accurately assess the progress of all components of the international plan, the annual goals and measurements are now in place to provide meaningful evaluations of the University’s progress in this area. Acknowledging that the University’s international plan is relatively new and still in development,Working Group on Using Assessment to Improve Institutional Effectiveness (WGIE) supported the idea that the University should continue to explore ways to assess faculty interest and involvement in research and other partnerships outside the United States, as noted in the International Plan Framework, 2009. Such assessments would help the University to increase its support and coordination of international research activities.