IIE Blog Opening Minds
IIE Blog Opening Minds

Idea 4: use research strategically and more practically

By: IIE on Tuesday, May 20, 2014

There is a wide range of research available, but validity and quality of the data vary, and the research is often conducted by and for the benefit of the international education community alone. It is important to highlight the most substantive, valid data, and to look for holes in the data that can be plugged with further research. Findings should be articulated in ways that researchers, faculty, senior administrators, policy makers and business leaders can understand. There is a need to join with mainstream consumer research projects to conduct research outside of the higher education setting.

  • Aggregate and amplify existing research into a “state of the field” publication and create a repository accessible to all.
  • Commission and encourage new research on the Return on Investment (ROI) of study abroad. There is a need for a large-scale, comprehensive study on the medium-term and long-term career, educational, and civic outcomes of study abroad. 
  • Encourage large-scale, national research, as well as smaller scale campus- or program-based research keeping in mind that it is critical to ask the right questions, ensure proper control groups, and to not equate correlation for causation. 
  • Bridge the divide between research international educators are conducting and the materials practitioners are using so that messages are data-driven and unified.
  • Conduct research with students and alumni to determine what will change students’ minds about study abroad, who influences them most and how best to make it happen.
  • Conduct research on those students who don’t go abroad, including asking students directly about the obstacles and decision points. 
  • Data and research on study abroad needs to be made compelling for employers, but “if it smells like advocacy, it won’t be compelling.” Study abroad needs to be redesigned to provide the outcomes that employers are looking for.
  • Publish the results, including clearly defined key messages, and encourage all players to use it. 
  • Create "infographics" and other data-driven products that help convey the impact of study abroad to various stakeholders. 
  • Drill down more on Open Doors data to mine the rich data there.
  • Aggregate research already conducted by the private sector on the need for more cross-cultural interaction and language skills, working with the researchers to publish an op-ed or get business journalists interested in the story.
  • Conduct research on the success of students with low GPAs who go abroad with respect to retention, G.P.A. upon return, etc.

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This blog entry summarizes Idea 4 of 11 “Big Ideas” brainstormed during IIE's Generation Study Abroad Think Tank event in March 2014. They are compiled in the IIE Green Paper, “What will it take to Double Study Abroad?


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For more than nine decades, the Institute of International Education has been at the forefront of international education. The Opening Minds blog is IIE’s take on how this field continues to change. Here the Institute’s leaders will explore international educational exchange, global student mobility, institutional partnerships, international development, and other topics and trends that are shaping higher education around the world.

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