International Relations

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International relations are becoming more enmeshed in education all the time, encouraging new collaborative relationships which are strengthening inroads to sharing skills and information. The movement of globalization is finding one expression in this through how schools network and support each other’s research and applications at home and abroad. One reason for this support is the education of future leaders of international relations in government and commerce. Understanding firsthand how such collaborations are nurtured and evolved gives these leaders the chance to implement improvements and expansions when they are in a position of influence. 

The Role of Education in International Relations

There is little doubt that higher education plays a major role in international relations, but just how this is and how to maximize it proactively is less understood. Here are a few of the fundamental ways in which education influences international relations:

higher education facilitates the movement of a large number of individuals (faculty, students, and staff) between nations and cultures

according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 3.7 million tertiary level students studied outside of their home country in 2009

Colleges and universities also provide important functions in terms of foreign-language acquisition, area studies, and intercultural appreciation.

institutions of all types—public or private, for-profit or nonprofit, two-year or four-year, liberal-arts focused or research-oriented—have developed offshore presences

These include a range of foreign outposts such as branch campuses, research labs, and outreach offices in dozens of countries.

Furthermore, an increasing number of colleges and universities are entering into relationships (e.g., dual degrees, joint degrees, collaborative research projects, consulting contracts, and others) with foreign higher-education institutions. (Lane and Kinser)

These movements are increasing with the flow of diversified globalization, and offer new opportunities for collaboration between nations and research disciplines. The effects of such globalization is seen, “Moreover, it is not just that higher education increasingly transcends national borders; it is also the types of activities in which these institutions engage that can affect international relations” (Lane and Kinser). New relationships are being made between nations and educational institutions in unprecedented fashion:

Northwestern University in Qatar works with Al Jazeera, the widely-watched Arabic news channel

Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar is charged with training international affairs specialists for the Arab Gulf region. 

MIT helped to establish the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, India; the Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilania, India; and the Aryamehr University of Technology in Iran

Houston Community College has been contracted by the Qatar government to help establish the Community College of Qatar (Lane and Kinser)

If these trends continue to grow it will support new avenues of influence which could profoundly affect the flow of information and personnel internationally. Higher learning institutions increasingly focus on research, and this has led to universities “operat[ing] teaching and research locations that serve to support ventures based at the home campus” (Lane and Kinser). This applies not only to technical schools such as MIT, but many such as:

Michigan State University has created project offices in Burundi, China, Dubai, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, India, Tanzania, and Zambia to assist their faculty researchers in coordinating projects in foreign countries.

Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation created its Studio X program. With architecture studios located in the heart of cities in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia, the Studio X program supports faculty and student engagement in some of the most rapidly developing metropolises in the world. (Lane and Kinser)

Part of the motivation for this movement has been the need to fund expanding programs in schools who may not be receiving consistent federal funding. However, whenever money is involved the question of possibly violating ethics of collaboration between nations is engaged. Thus, researchers are asking questions of this collaboration:

Is there a role for higher education in diplomacy?

Are colleges and universities legitimate sources of soft power?

To what extent do international-education professionals recognize that their actions, positive and negative, can have lasting effects on their nation’s credibility?

Are governments purposeful in using colleges and universities as instruments of public diplomacy?

Should colleges and universities be concerned about the diplomatic implications of their actions? (Lane and Kinser)

Is there anything wrong with a government agency or an affiliated organisation offering fellowships to encourage students in other countries to study outside their own country and to absorb the culture of their host country during the period of study? (Peterson)

This reality has led to the study of exercising “soft power”, and the various nuances of how this power should be held accountable. Researchers emphasize that opposed to hard power, “soft power rests on a gentler but equally influential approach. Soft power, rather than employing military might or economic leverage, is dependent on the power of ideas and culture to influence the friendship, disposition, and action of others” (Peterson). Soft power can be used beneficially or to undermine. One example of positive use is the Fulbright Program, which is “the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries” (U.S. Department of State). This collaboration fosters diverse understanding, and helps future leaders network even as they learn (NEA). Emulating this U.S. approach, other nations have implemented;

The British Council…describes itself as the United Kingdom’s international organization for educational opportunities and cultural relations.

Germany’s Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD) and the European Commission’s Erasmus Mundus programme have similar missions.

Examples from Asia include China’s Confucius Institutes, and a new Malaysia-based agency established to promote educational cooperation with countries in the ASEAN region. (Peterson)

(Figure 1 omitted for preview. Available via download).

Since the trends in this movement are less and less American students/leaders studying abroad, and more and more coming to America there is the possibility that America is attempting to leverage educational influence abroad. In the nuances of these collaborations lies the power to,

(Figure 2 omitted for preview. Available via download).

increase benefit, but also heightens the possibility of reinforcing hegemony. Interestingly though, the majority of American students being educated around the world are Caucasian, and this bodes well for the desire to expand diversity awareness. 

However, the truth remains it is important that such collaborative programs have equal opportunity engagement. Researchers ask, “When governments and country-based public diplomacy organizations reach out to developing countries, do they do so with an attitude of mutuality? Or is the outlook one of a stronger power influencing a weaker one?” (Peterson). If it were the former the role of education in international relations would be one of manipulation and not the furthering of mutual independence (Lane).


The role of international relations in education is complex and shifting, offering new opportunity and creating new structures for collaboration. As part of the larger matrix of globalization the far reaching effects of this movement are unknown as they are relatively new. The power structures of nations are continuously shifting in a tapestry of competition and dependence.


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Works Cited

Lane, Jason. “Higher Education and International Relations: A (very) Brief Overview of Governmental Strategies.”, 2016. Retrieved from:

Lane, Jason, and Kevin Kinser. “What Is Higher Education’s Role in International Relations?” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 12 Mar. 2012. Retrieved from:

NEA. “International Relations.”, 2016. Retrieved from:

Peterson, Patti McGill. “Global higher education as a reflection of international relations.”, 2016. Retrieved from:

U.S. Department of State. “The Fulbright Program.”, 2016. Retrieved from: