International Week carries more weight on increasingly global UI campus
Didn't make it overseas for spring break?
Head to campus and try the Finnish cuisine at Bevier Cafe on Tuesday. Or maybe Moroccan is your style — that's Thursday's menu. Or go see "Kisoboka," an African variety show.
It's all part of International Week at the University of Illinois, which highlights the breadth of international activities on campus.
That task grows larger each year as the UI's land-grant campus takes on an increasingly global flavor.
— The campus now has 9,400 international students, more than any university in the country. They make up 22 percent of the student body, up from 12 percent a decade ago, and hail from 115 countries — 60 percent of the United Nations' member states.
— While the UI has always had a sizable international graduate student population, the growth has come primarily at the undergraduate level. That percentage has more than tripled from 4.4 percent 10 years ago to 15.5 percent today, even as total undergraduate enrollment has risen steadily.
— The Urbana campus has more than 400 academic partnerships with universities and government agencies in 50-plus countries — student exchanges, faculty collaborations, dual-degree programs, even a research center in Singapore.
— As part of its strategic plan, the campus is making new efforts to connect with thousands of UI alumni around the world, in part to create new fundraising opportunities. The UI opened an outreach office in China last December and has plans to do the same in India.
— More than 2,000 UI students study abroad each year in about 60 countries. The strategic plan calls for expanding international experiences to 25 percent of all undergraduates.
— To manage and coordinate the growth, several new administrative posts have been created, including a vice provost for international affairs and global strategies (upgraded from a current associate provost) to guide decisions about what the campus should be doing abroad and coordinate international engagements across campus; and a new director of international student integration, Nicole Tami, to help students adjust to American campus life, particularly 18-year-old freshmen abroad for the first time.
One of Tami's first tasks was to create an easy-to-use web page with helpful resources for students, including the 45 international student organizations on campus.
"The face of this university, like the face of universities around the country, is truly changing," said Tami, who was appointed last summer. "We are becoming much more global, we are becoming much more cosmopolitan and international."
The university has had international ties for years, but Chancellor Phyllis Wise said she's tried to add "a more strategic focus" to its efforts.
"As people around the world become more and more connected, our students must be prepared to lead a truly global society," she wrote in an email to The News-Gazette from overseas.
"One of our goals in building our international presence and, more important, our international partnerships, is to ensure that an Illinois degree carries the impact we know it deserves no matter where our students decide to make their careers and their lives and no matter who they encounter along the way. We live in a global society. To train the leaders of the next generation for successful and impactful lives, we must find new and creative ways to offer international experiences."
Wise spent her spring break traveling to India and England, meeting with corporate officials, alumni and academic partners to expand investments in UI research and explore new opportunities for UI students to study abroad.
She met with the CEO of Infosys to discuss IT-related software research and with Godrej Agrovet, a major agribusiness company in Mumbai. She visited the director of IIT Bombay and leaders at several other Indian universities to discuss the possibility of bringing CompGen to India, a program that leverages the UI's computing power to advance understanding of genomics, she said.
In London, Wise planned to meet with Bob Dudley, a UI alumnus and chief executive officer of BP, a major research partner for the campus. Wise also was to visit Oxford University and Imperial College in hopes of creating closer collaborations and study abroad opportunities.
"I can't stress how important an international presence is to a major university or how critical it is to leverage the strengths of our peer institutions, potential corporate partners and alumni — no matter where they are," she said.
Not everyone embraces the new global focus, particularly the growth in the international student population. The campus gets pushback from parents, alumni and legislators who argue that international students are taking spots away from Illinois high school seniors.
The number of freshmen from Illinois has held steady, but the percentage has dropped as overall enrollment grew to accommodate more out-of-state and international applicants, Tami said. For last fall's freshman class, the percentage of in-state students hit a new low of 73 percent.
"We certainly don't turn away qualified Illinois students so we can let in international students," Tami said.
The number of international freshmen, once around 500, had remained at 900 to 950 until this fall, when it jumped to 1,173 as more students than expected accepted admission offers, said Stacey Kostell, director of admissions. The target for next year is again 950, out of a projected freshman class of 7,100, she said.
The acceptance rate for international students is less than 50 percent — and has been dropping — compared to almost 70 percent for state residents, Kostell noted. But more and more highly qualified international students are applying to the UI, particularly from China and India, she said.
The UI hasn't purposely recruited more international students, Kostell said. The pipeline to the UI built up over time as graduates went back home and shared their experiences, she said. The relationship with China, in fact, dates back more than a century.
The number of Chinese students studying abroad worldwide has expanded as that country's economic fortunes rose.
With the growing international applicant pool — and a decline in the UI's state funding and in the number of Illinois high school graduates — the campus decided to increase its undergraduate international student population, Kostell said. Universities across the country have made similar moves.
Most international students pay full sticker price — more than double in-state tuition — unlike a large portion of domestic students who get financial aid, Kostell said.
The campus also benefits from a diversity of students in the classroom and residence halls, whether they're from the East and West coasts, varied socioeconomic backgrounds or other countries, Kostell said.
Bringing in people who have different educational experiences, perspectives or cultural approaches "just sort of blows open the conversation," Tami said. "It forces us to reconsider our own positions, our own core beliefs."
A diverse lot
More than 115 countries send students to the UI each year. China tops the list by a wide margin. Here are the top 10 in 2014-15:
South Korea: 1,348
The entire list:
|Bosnia and Herzegovi||0||0||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|Congo, Democratic Re||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0||0||1|
|Cote D Ivoire||0||0||0||1||1||0||0||0||0||2|
|Trinidad & Tobago||0||1||0||1||1||0||0||0||0||3|
|United Arab Emirates||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1|
Note: List includes undergraduates, graduate and professional students.
Source: UI Division of Management Information