Lessons Learned and Possible Future Pathways

A Summary of Key Themes and Findings

In: Identity and Internationalization in Catholic Universities
Free access

Internationalization is a key concern for universities working to achieve their goals in different regions of the world, without neglecting their identity. The goal of this study is to explore the relationship between Catholic identity and internationalization in Catholic universities of different types and located in different contexts. Guiding questions are: What is the rationale for internationalization at Catholic universities? Is it mostly financial, social, academic, or identity driven? Should students’ study abroad experience have a Catholic identity and mission component to it? How do Catholic institutions cooperate with other institutions? Is there an identity-based strategy behind the choice of partners? What is the influence of context? What is the role of associations of Catholic universities?

Catholic universities have unique missions, such as the formation of individuals inspired by a religious conviction to serve society and the Church. On the other hand, if an institution is tightly connected, as Catholic higher education institutions (HEIs) usually are, with an external religious organization—a relationship Bernasconi (2006) and Milian and Rizk (2017) call “affiliation”—it is to be expected that such affiliation would bring some measure of distinctiveness to the educational institution, providing it with a sense of mission, functions, policies, human and other resources, development strategies, and sources of legitimacy that derive more or less directly from this close association of the university with another institution.

Indeed, the relationship between Catholic identity and mission, and institutional strategies and policies in Catholic HEIs have been explored (mostly in the United States) with respect to marketing (Milian & Rizk, 2017); policies toward unions (Beyer, 2015); teaching and learning (Hagan, 2016); inclusiveness (Ford & Glimps, 2016); the impact of philanthropy in the balance between a Catholic college’s service to the Church and its responsiveness to national policy (Gallo, 2013); religious and academic freedom (Russo & McGreal, 2012; García, 2012); pedagogy for justice and social learning (Bergman, 2011; Harrison, Kostic, Toton, & Zurek, 2010; Rausch, 2010); and culture (Morey & Piderit, 2006), among other issues. Although the bulk of this literature concerns US HEIs, there are also examples of scholarship and reflection in similar topics emerging from other contexts, such as Chile (Imbarack, 2015) or China (Chen, 2004), and undoubtedly much that is published in languages other than English or in outlets not easily searchable through bibliographic databases.

However, neither the above referenced works, nor more general reviews of Catholic higher education, such as Hunt, Joseph, Nuzzi, and Geiger (2003); Morey and Piderit (2006); or Gleason (1995), take internationalization as their main focus, as we do in this book.

That is why it appears reasonable to seek a link between the Catholic identity and mission of these universities and their internationalization policy and practice, and to uncover empirical evidence to help develop practical and effective policies on central themes such as internationalization—a fundamental part of many universities’ developmental strategies—while paying special attention to each university’s specific context.

In this summary chapter, we present key themes addressed. First, we address the concept of internationalization in higher education. Then we look at the role of Catholic higher education within the context of the Catholic Church, and explore how identity and internationalization are embedded in institutional practice. This is followed by an overview of the role of global and regional associations in Catholic higher education, and their attention to internationalization. This summary ends with key findings from a comparative analysis of the case studies and regional contexts presented in this book, and we define some questions for further discussion and study about ways universities can seek to balance their catholic identity and mission with their global engagement initiatives.

Internationalization in Higher Education

Internationalization as a concept and strategic factor is a rather recent phenomenon, resulting from the fact that higher education, both at the level of the system and of the institutions, needs to act and react in an increasingly globalized knowledge society and economy. Internationalization, in particular in Catholic universities, has always been present in different ways: in research, in the inbound and outbound mobility of students and scholars, in the curriculum, but it has been more implicit and fragmented than explicit and central.

From the 1980s onward, internationalization has gradually moved from being marginal to becoming a core phenomenon, as a consequence of such developments as the increasing importance of research and education for economic development (the knowledge economy and knowledge society), the rapidly growing demand for higher education in the world, the end of the Cold War, and regional cooperation in higher education—the latter particularly in Europe.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the main focus was on mobility. This was a result of an unmet demand for higher education, triggering a drastic increase in the number of degree-seeking students, mainly from the developing to the developed world; the growth in the mobility of short-term credit students, in particular in Europe as a result of the Erasmus program; an increase in short-term faculty mobility, primarily for research; and a gradual growth in franchise operations, branch campuses, and other forms of transnational education.

This focus—referred to as “Internationalization Abroad” (Jane Knight, 2012)—is still prevalent. But by the turn of the millennium, a need emerged for HEIs to respond to a compelling call for globally competent citizens and professionals. This imperative required paying attention to the far larger group of nonmobile students and faculty, and to internationalizing the curriculum and teaching and learning. The notion of “Internationalization at Home” came to the fore.

Over the past decade, the relationship between these two components—internationalization at home and abroad—and the need to create a more central, integrated, and systemic approach to internationalization have spurred an interest in “Comprehensive Internationalization” (Hudzik, 2015), to help eliminate fragmentation and marginalization. An updated definition of internationalization emerged, reflecting these broader understandings of the nature and purpose of internationalization:

The intentional process of integrating an international, intercultural, or global dimension into the purpose, functions, and delivery of postsecondary education, in order to enhance the quality of education and research for all students and staff and to make a meaningful contribution to society. (de Wit et al., 2015)

In other words, internationalization in higher education has evolved over the past 30 years from an ad hoc, marginal, and fragmented phenomenon to a central and comprehensive component of higher education policy—although, still, more in the rhetoric than in concrete action (de Wit & Rumbley, 2017).

How do Catholic HEIs develop their policies and practices of internationalization? What rationales do they use to enhance the three pillars of internationalization: mobility, curriculum, and partnerships? How do they relate these policies and practices to their identity and mission? In other words: why are HEIs internationalizing, how does that relate to their programs and organizational strategies, and what outcomes do they look for? To answer these questions, we first go back to some of the defining dimensions of embedding identity and internationalization into institutional practice, as addressed in the introductory chapter.

Embedding Identity & Internationalization into Institutional Practice

A significant part of being a Catholic HEI has to do with the relationship to the structural authority of the Roman Catholic Church. As an academic institution, a Catholic university is a member of the local community (including the local diocese), the national community (including the national conference of bishops), the international academic community (via the Roman Curia), and it is in service to the universal Church through the teaching and research functions proper to its role (John Paul II, 1990). Every Catholic university must “maintain communion with the universal Church and the Holy See… the local Church and in particular with the diocesan Bishops of the region or nation in which it is located” (John Paul II, 1990, Part II, art. 5).

The Congregation for Catholic Education is one of the dicasteries or departments of the Roman Curia—the central government of the Catholic Church in Rome. Within this Congregation is the Office for Universities. At this level, universal norms for Catholic universities are followed, as published in the Code of Canon Law (can. 807–814) and the apostolic constitution, Ex corde Ecclesiae. While these documents have specific regulatory functions in defining a Catholic HEI, the Congregation rarely intervenes in the management of an institution. Universities that include ecclesiastical faculties for the training of seminarians and the granting of ecclesiastical degrees have a distinct and formal connection to the Office for Universities within the Congregation for Catholic Education. The norms for ecclesiastical faculties have been followed as published in the apostolic constitution, Sapientia Christiana (John Paul II, 1979), now recently updated in Veritatis Gaudium (Francis, 2018).

At the national or regional level, countries have an episcopal conference (a conference of bishops), which exercises pastoral functions over a regional or national community. For example, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is the episcopal conference for the Catholic Church in the United States. Within the USCCB, the Committee on Catholic Education works to “[encourage] and [support] efforts in Catholic education by fostering the distribution and implementation of both universal Church documents on education as well as related documents developed by the bishops of the United States” (USCCB, n.d., n.p.) The USCCB also maintains relationships with bishops and diocesan offices, national education organizations, governmental and legislative bodies, and the Holy See and other episcopal conferences. At the local level the Code of Canon Law states, “… No university is to bear the title or name of Catholic university without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority” (can. 808). The ecclesiastical authority in this case need not be the Congregation in Rome, nor a bishop from the national episcopal conference but is generally understood to be the diocesan bishop.

Thus, “every Catholic University, without ceasing to be a University, has a relationship to the Church that is essential to its institutional identity” (John Paul II, 1990, No. 27). It is not a relationship of mandates and regulations. Rather, the institution participates in this mutually life-giving relationship by fulfilling its mission as an academic institution, in its teaching and research functions, properly ordered to the common good of society and to the service of the universal Church.

In an age of significant transformation in societies around the world, the question of what makes a Catholic university Catholic is being asked again in many institutions. This question has no easy answer. Although the distinctive character is defined by the essential characteristics set out in Ex corde Ecclesiae, each university is affected by many factors in its own context that will lead it to view the issue from its own unique perspective.

As Catholic universities reflect on how they can contribute to societal development and produce graduates who are equipped to work and live in the world from a Christian perspective, they also need to do so in the context of the growing challenges and pressures of globalization. This means that they are also required to think about the international dimension of their work and how it can enhance the institutional quality.

While universities seek to redefine their Catholic identity, many are also facing the competitive pressures of internationalization, either to enhance their prestige or to guarantee sufficient student numbers. As internationalization increasingly becomes an institutional imperative, it is also being questioned in a number of countries around the world as the recent wave of antiglobalization challenges the values and benefits that universities attribute to internationalization. Therefore, while universities may perceive identity and internationalization as fundamental, they are also subjected to strong pressures from their environments.

Furthermore, in some universities identity and internationalization may have developed independently of one another with no evident points of contact in institutional practice, while in others, there may be a more purposeful approach to build clear connections and enable the two dimensions to mutually reinforce one another.

In whatever way a Catholic university defines its identity and its approach to internationalization, the cases described in this book indicate that there are a variety of approaches to do this, and that there is a significant variation in the degrees of intensity or intentionality in linking the two components of what is termed “mission-driven internationalization.”

Universities—and Catholic universities are no exception—do not typically have a long tradition with strategic planning. It is a process that does not always sit comfortably in their culture and very often the first experience is not a successful one. The reasons for developing a plan may come from external pressures of government or funding agencies seeking accountability rather than from within, and the university may feel forced to comply rather than embrace it as an opportunity to think creatively and strategically about its future.

Strategic planning, when properly done, offers an opportunity to the university to move away from a collection of loosely connected activities to an approach that links identity to internationalization, embeds both dimensions in institutional practice and enhances their potential to contribute to mission. As Fiorin (2015, p. 7) states in Instrumentum Laboris, the mission is derived from Catholic identity and puts it into practice.

In order to do so, a model is presented in the introductory chapter on the way a university operates and how this should be reflected through the strategic planning process. It invites the university to start by having clearly in mind what its vision and mission should be in line with the context in which it is operating. Only then should it identify academic activities in terms of education, formation, research, and outreach, since it is through these activities that it will be able to carry out the vision and mission that it has chosen. Once the academic activities have been defined, the university can turn its attention to what support services need to be in place, and then finally to the resources required for effective operation. These four elements are described in sequence in four sections of the plan with clear objectives and actions, and each section supporting the previous ones.

This model invites the university to plan for its future in an intentional, systematic, and holistic manner and proposes identity and internationalization as cross-functional dimensions. Both are expressed in the mission and vision and translated into specific academic activities and practices, support functions, and resource needs. The model is one that can be used by any university regardless of its circumstances or ambitions, and enables it to identify the ways in which identity and internationalization can mutually support one another.

If identity and internationalization are considered to be essential, then they should be placed at the heart of the planning process where they can be given real meaning and where their respective roles can be reinforced. As they interact with one another, they can give greater value to the mission that each university seeks to deliver in the context of its own particular heritage and setting. One aspect of internationalization that is typically addressed in the planning process is the role of partnerships and networks and it is interesting to explore how these are developing in the context of Catholic Education.

The Global Landscape of Catholic Associations and Networks

As an academic institution, a Catholic university is part of the local community and the international academic community, and it serves the universal Church through the teaching and research functions proper to its role (John Paul II, 1990). In its research function, the Catholic HEI has as its mission to examine:

Serious contemporary problems in areas such as the dignity of human life, the promotion of justice for all, the quality of personal and family life, the protection of nature, the search for peace and political stability, a more just sharing in the world’s resources, and a new economic and political order that will better serve the human community at a national and international level. (John Paul II, 1990, No. 32)

Given the vastness, complexity, and urgency of these problems, and the limited “economic and personal resources of a single institution, cooperation in common research projects among Catholic universities, as well as other private and governmental institutions,” (John Paul II, 1990, No. 35)—that is, international academic partnerships, associations, and networks—are imperative to facilitate the necessary collaboration to arrive at solutions. Thus, Catholic institutions, within their functions as both university and Catholic, must choose how to engage at the global level in order to fulfil their mission.

Academic associations are groups of organizations or professional academic units that scale from departments to schools to institutions, or institutional constituents (faculty, administrators, and students), and may be single or multipurpose (de Wit, 2004). Academic associations may be classified according to the mission of the organization: multi-aim scholarly, multi-aim social, standards-oriented, discipline-oriented, or profession-oriented (Fumasoli et al., 2017). Academic associations may also be classified by membership levels: interpersonal, interunit, or interorganizational (Brass et al., 2004). For Catholic academic associations, a further level of classification exists by sponsoring religious order, for example by the Jesuits, or the Franciscans, or the Lasallians. Catholic HEIs may also be affiliated with nongovernmental Catholic service organizations such as Catholic Relief Services, Caritas International, or Jesuit Refugee Services. This reflects the particular mission of Catholic HEIs to promote social justice and student formation; as such, these relationships may include short-term or long-term student mobility opportunities such as international service trips or student placements and internships. While numerous Catholic NGOs operate internationally, there appear to be but few Catholic academic associations and networks that function at that level, especially for interorganizational membership. The International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU) is an international academic association with institutional members (see Table 1). The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) has some international member institutions, but primarily caters to North America. At the regional and national levels, Catholic academic interorganizational associations are more active, especially those affiliated to sponsoring orders. At the interunit and interpersonal membership levels, there are several international Catholic associations and networks that are largely discipline and profession-oriented. These academic associations frequently host conferences and publish scholarly journals, thus contributing to essential collaborative research.

At a global level, however, it appears that the potential for Catholic universities to enhance their internationalization efforts through strategic use of associations and networks is still underdeveloped. Chapter 24 describes the global network of La Salle universities. This network, as well as the Association of Universities Entrusted to the Society of Jesus in Latin America (AUSJAL) and the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) in the United States, are examples of global and regional cooperation. But in general internationalization is not yet very high on the agenda of other associations, such as IFCU.

Key Findings From Case Studies and Regional Contexts

With these concepts, dimensions, and contexts in mind, we have looked for the relationship between Catholic identity and internationalization in different types of institutions and regions. Hereunder are some of the key findings.

Table 1

Examples of international Catholic academic associations and networks

Name of AssociationMission TypeMembership LevelSponsoring OrderNumber of Members
International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU)Multi-aim scholarlyInterorganizationalNone221 HEIs
Jesuit Worldwide Learning (JWL)Multi-aim socialInterorganizationalSociety of Jesus16 HEIs, 9 organisations
International Association of Jesuit Business SchoolsDiscipline-orientedInterunit/InterpersonalSociety of Jesus107 HEIs
Catholic Peacebuilding NetworkMulti-aim socialInterorganizationalNone12 HEIs, 5 associations, 6 bishop’s conferences
Catholic Archive SocietyProfession-orientedInterpersonalNone200 members (archivists, historians)
Association of Catholic Colleges and UniversitiesMulti-aim scholarlyInterorganizationalNone29 international HEIs and approximately 200 US HEIs
Society for Catholic ScientistsDiscipline-oriented/Profession orientedInterpersonalNone600 members
International Network of Catholic Astronomy InstitutionsDiscipline-orientedInterorganizationalNone3 HEIs
Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church NetworkDiscipline-orientedInterpersonalNone100 members
Source: Data retrieved from each association’s website.

Types of Catholic Institutions

We identify four types of catholic institutions of higher education:

  • Diocesan: a diocese or a conference of bishops founded and sponsors the institution, and the local bishop or a group of bishops exerts some role in its governance.

  • Independent: the institution recognizes its Catholic inspiration and is sponsored and governed by a lay board.

  • Sponsored-Religious: sponsorship comes from a religious order or congregation (for instance, the Society of Jesus) and the institution is governed by either a board of members of the order or congregation, or by a mixed board of clergy and lay members.

  • Pontifical: the Holy See oversees the institution, which is either diocesan or sponsored religious.

We have not encountered much difference in the relationship between the Catholic identity and internationalization strategy of the various cases we studied. Independent universities, Catholic by inspiration and/or by heritage, might be in general less explicit and focused in relating to these two dimensions than the others, but in general the difference in emphasis is marginal. Other factors are more important and are reviewed below.

Historical Dimensions

The modern foundation of many Catholic institutions of higher education is highly influenced by historical context and diverse developments in the political, economic, and sociocultural spheres. The historical context at the time of the founding has been imprinted in the organization of these Catholic institutions and influences their organizational behavior to this day. Especially in periods when universities are approaching jubilees, their history, heritage, and the reasons why they were founded gain in importance. During these periods, universities tend to be more self-reflective regarding their intellectual and scientific history and religious roots, becoming more aware of the adaptations (concessions) that have been made due to the demands of society, and awareness arises of the need to preserve and enhance their Catholic identity. Even in times when universities are more internationally oriented, they retain their national (and religious) identity (de Ridder-Symoens, 2006).


Contexts define the relationship between identity/mission and internationalization in different ways. Whether the university is settled in a Catholic environment or where Catholics are a minority matters. We can compare for instance Sophia University in Japan to St. Paul University in the Philippines. Both are located in Asia, but Catholicism is in Japan a marginal religion while it is dominant in the Philippines. As their case studies make clear, both demonstrate a strong religious identity, but their different contexts lead to different choices in their internationalization initiatives.

If the university is a regionally or globally highly ranked research university, the relationship between religious identify and internationalization is far looser than in other cases. We can compare the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (PUC) to Alberto Hurtado University in Santiago, Chile. The first is a regionally highly ranked research university, while the second is a teaching institution with an emerging research profile. The PUC is founding its identity and internationalization policy on the quality of its research, while for Alberto Hurtado University the focus is on its social mission.

Recently established universities are more explicit in the relationship between their Catholic identity and internationalization than older universities. When comparing Loyola Andalusia University to University Deusto in Spain, we see that the first is a young teaching institution, the second an older, well-established research university, and as a result Loyola Andalusia University is much more focused on its Jesuit identity than Deusto. Size also plays a factor: smaller institutions appear more focused on their Catholic identity in their internationalization efforts.

In more secularized societies, Catholic identity is less dominant than in other contexts. This emerges when comparing Tilburg University in the Netherlands, a secularized society, to the Catholic University of Lublin, Poland, a country that is predominantly Catholic. In some cases, such as at Tilburg University, or at the Catholic University in Australia, Catholic identity plays a limited role overall, and does not appear to be related to their internationalization strategy.

The Pillars of Internationalization

While Catholic affiliation is usually a strong and explicit component of the universities’ mission and identity—and the same can be said of internationalization—in most cases the two dimensions appear unconnected. The relationship between Catholic identity and mission on the one hand and internationalization policy and practice on the other is in general limited and more implicit and indirect than explicit and direct. However, if we look at the three pillars of internationalization: mobility, curriculum, and partnerships, we have found that the relationship is stronger—although rather implicit—in internationalization of the curriculum than in mobility and partnerships. Implicit values, such as social justice or human rights, are in general manifest in internationalization strategies.

Catholic universities see an important role in interfaith dialogue, maybe even more than in partnerships with fellow Catholic institutions. While young Catholic universities (University Loyola Andalucía, Catholic University of Croatia) consider their identity as a way to open doors to other Catholic partners, more established institutions do not prioritize Catholic partners above others. In those universities, Catholic partners are in general a minority.

Tension between the Business and Reputation Model and the Mission-Driven Model

There is a tension between the business/reputation model and the Catholic mission model. While institutions have to sustain themselves through tuition fees, endowments, and grants, and must compete at the national, regional, and global levels based on their reputation, depending on context this may or may not be compatible with their Catholic identity and mission—of, for instance, serving underserved groups in society. For example, for a university such as Boston College, providing financial aid to international undergraduate students is difficult from a business model perspective, but from a mission perspective it should be a driver. For a regionally top-ranked research university such as PUC in Chile, which sees as a priority to provide quality education and research and enjoys the reputation of being a quality institution, how does this that relate to its Catholic mission to foster educational opportunity and inclusion? In essence, there seems to be a tension between catholic with a “C” or a “c” in the internationalization strategy.

Future Challenges and Opportunities

In the current political climate of religious radicalization and intolerance and exacerbated nationalism, a process appears to be taking place of rethinking and reestablishing a relationship between Catholic identity and internationalization. Malini Sivasubramaniam and Ruth Hayhoe (2017) see the debate on the relationship between religion and education in a comparative and international perspective as timely.

It comes at a critical period when religious tensions and fears of religiously rooted terrorism threaten to erode peace and national security around the world (…) Instances of religious radicalisation and intolerance frame many ethnic conflicts in our political landscape. Contrary to philosophical and sociological debates that have anticipated the demise of religion, there is renewed awareness of how important religious faith is in the lives of many and how deeply religion impacts communities. (p. 17)

Sivasubramaniam and Hayhoe emphasize the role of education in interfaith dialogue and understanding of other religions, and call for more attention for this theme in the field of comparative and international education (p. 24). This book is intended as a contribution to that understanding. Katherine Marshall (2017) mentions six crucial topics where religious institutions should be particularly involved:

  • Delivery and outreach to underserved populations

  • Specific education and outreach to refugees and displaced populations

  • Curricular focus on pluralism and “religious literary”

  • Addressing education challenges surrounding values in education and understandings of citizenship

  • Training of religious leaders

  • Advocacy for education goals and reforms (p. 29)

Catholic HEIs have always had an active role in the last two. In the current political climate globally, the first four are in need of greater attention.

Exploring and defining the relationship between identity and internationalization is not specific for Catholic and other faith-based universities. All institutions of higher education have to define their internationalization strategy in relation to their history, context, and mission, and have to be more conscious about the way their global engagement can contribute to strengthening their identity. There is not one model to define the mutual relationship between the two, as context plays a significant role in the way Catholic universities put that relationship into practice. Our observation, however, is that in most cases there is no explicit reflection, by the university community, on the relationship between the two, and as a result no policy and practice in which that relationship is given shape and form. Although there are many instances in which internationalization relates to Catholic identity, and where Catholic identity influences international programs and activities, this generally happens in a fragmented, marginal, and implicit way.

Finding a more explicit and intentional balance between the two dimensions is our recommendation. We are not suggesting to strive to connect all mobility, curriculum, and partnerships, exclusively to Catholic identity, as openness to the surrounding society is an essential part of Catholic identity. But exploring options whereby values embedded in Catholic identity drive the internationalization agenda and global engagement initiatives reinforce those values, would be a substantial move forward. In this respect, three questions in current Catholic higher education appear fundamental: Will emerging global trends change patterns of religious life and open new opportunities for faith-based education? How are Catholic universities affected by growing religious diversity and increasing secularization worldwide? And finally, how can these changes in the external context shape internationalization policies at Catholic universities?

This is the first global study on the relationship between Catholic identity and internationalization. We hope that this research will be useful to senior management and professionals involved with internationalization at Catholic universities, and we welcome further research on related themes, for instance by widening the study to other faith-based institutions, or to a comparative review of Catholic and other faith-based university networks and associations.


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Identity and Internationalization in Catholic Universities

Exploring Institutional Pathways in Context



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