Guide to Work, Study, Travel and Living Abroad  FacebookTwitterGoogle+  
As seen in Transitions Abroad Magazine July/August 2002
Related Topics
Study Abroad
Study Abroad Advisor

Quality in Higher Education

But What About Quality in International Education?

(Article and comments In Memoriam of Barbara Burn)

Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) is a household acronym with academic bureaucrats who set goals and try to define cost-effective approaches for our colleges and universities. Traditional approaches to quality control are being swept aside, extended, or reinvigorated as U.S. higher education is pushed towards ever higher levels of accomplishment and assessment. Unfortunately, this trend does not include international education and student and faculty exchanges. The now somewhat discredited practice of regional accreditation of higher education institutions has mostly overlooked education abroad. Evaluation depends on the willingness of the U.S. institution to organize and to pay for an on-site visit to the program or institution abroad. Few U.S. institutions have felt the need to do this.

If education abroad really is important to American colleges and universities, as more and more admissions officers claim in their undergraduate recruitment literature, the assessment of quality must also be important. Study abroad will not achieve the major recognition it should have if: 1) the colleges and universities that offer it do not see it as an integral part of their ongoing educational programs, and 2) international education is not evaluated as part of regular academic offerings instead of as an exceptional opportunity.

Efforts to evaluate the quality of education abroad have tended to focus on the smooth functioning of a program and the student's satisfaction with and academic performance in it. The main concerns of the American colleges and universities that offer study abroad programs are the health and safety of students in the program, program funding (is it sufficient to cover basic costs plus those extra facilities and services needed to assure quality?), and the effectiveness of student selection and advising.

The common practice of study abroad programs to ask students to fill out questionnaires on their experience abroad tends to focus on students' reactions to the program and their stay in the foreign country. Students are asked questions such as how satisfied they were with the academic program, the extent and quality of their interaction with the host culture, and, if a foreign language country was involved, how they would rate their proficiency in the language at the beginning and end of the program.

Responses to these kinds of questions are useful to program administrators who wish to improve a program, to strengthen student advising, and, assuming student responses are positive, to use in recruitment activities and literature. The information can also be very helpful to prospective student participants as they try to choose among education abroad options.

What is surprising is that-given tighter budgets and growing pressures for accountability and "value for money"-more U.S. colleges and universities are not demanding that programs abroad be evaluated on the basis of how they compare with home-campus academic programs. While study abroad is still not generally regarded as an integral part of the curriculum, there are some important exceptions, such as some of the Univ. of California's education abroad programs.

Concern with quality in education abroad will make a quantum leap when courses taken in study abroad programs are regarded as important as those taken on the home campus courses in fulfilling degree requirements. When that time comes, the evaluation of the quality of study abroad will take on a whole new-highly important and long overdue-dimension, and the contribution of study abroad to the quality of higher education will be better understood.

One of a Kind

Complex, fearless, demanding, funny, independent, creative, visionary, tireless, blunt, abrupt, thoughtful, unpredictable, kind, caring, daring, mischievous, competitive, awesome . . . a truly unforgettable individual.

Benefitting from Barbara Burn's leadership, we have had the extraordinary opportunity to work with and to know her as one of our own, a woman who will always be a leader in the field of international education and exchange. The experience and insights she brought to this work are rarely found in one person-she was one of a kind.

To the greater world, Barbara was an icon; to us, she was someone we saw every day-someone we laughed with, cried with, argued with, chatted with, worked with, and, to all intents and purposes, shared our lives with.

This is our loss.

The Staff, International Programs Office
Univ. of Massachusetts Amherst

A Model for Us All

Such vivid memories: Barbara flat on her back on the floor of the Brussels airport as we waited endlessly for a strike-bound plane. Barbara telling all hearers how she'd been locked out of her hotel room au naturel. Barbara insisting on taking the roll-away when the hotel had only a single room for the two of us. Most of all, Barbara setting high standards for an evolving profession. She demanded integrity, truth, and accuracy. She fought endlessly against the kind of overseas programming which sheltered American students from real involvement with the students, faculty, and educational systems of their host countries. She was a model for all of us in her ability to interact with educators around the world and politicians here at home. I will miss her.

Paula Spier
Dean Emerita, Antioch International

Good Will, Professionalism

Barbara and I shared a strong commitment to the professionalization of the field of international education and gaining its acceptance in the university community as a valid academic undertaking. She contributed much through CIEE, NAFSA, and other organizations toward that objective. She herself participated in the accreditation of the UC Education Abroad Project. In addition, she served as a consultant to the International Committee for the Study of Education Exchange. All of this was done with boundless energy and good will.

I doubt if there is a corner of the globe that has not been touched by her professionalism in support of international understanding.

Bill and Olivia Allaway
Former Director of UCalifornia System International Programs

Int'l. Programs "Queen"

My friendship with Barbara Burn dates back to the early 1970s. At that time, I was immersed in developing international programs for the Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara (UAG), Mexico. Barbara was already at that early date a highly recognized figure in the field of international education. Her participation in many international associations in this area led to her becoming acquainted with the leaders of UAG, who had been involved in internationalizing the university long before it was fashionable to do so.

Barbara was clearly a leader in the field, and her knowledge and experience was recognized by all, at home and abroad. She gave her advice and shared her experiences in a very generous and spontaneous manner, in such a way that one immediately became one more of her permanent contacts in the impressive network that she had around the world. Because of her experience and knowledge, she occupied leadership positions in all of the important organizations of international education. For this reason, I used to introduce her to my friends as "the queen" of international programs, although this always led to a reaction by her of a humble "no" and a friendly smile.

The international community will always miss Barbara, her wisdom in how to organize and conduct international programs, and her devotion and dedication to the field.

Álvaro Romo de la Rosa
Vice President,
Int'l. Assn. of Univ. President

A Believer in Action

This fall, Barbara and I were exchanging emails about an international student who was seeking admission to the Fletcher School, from which Barbara had graduated and on whose Board of Trustees she sat. I noticed, from her address, that her office was in the William S. Clark International Center. William S. Clark was my stepchildren's great-grandfather, as well as the founder of the Sapporo Agricultural College (which became Hokkaido Univ.) and the third president of the Massachusetts Agricultural College (which became UMass). I mentioned my connection to William S. Clark in an email. By return email, Barbara wrote, "The 125th anniversary of the link between Hokkaido and UMass is October 9-10. What are you doing? Why don't you come here?" That, to me, was classic Barbara. While other people were thinking about things, she already had it done and had moved on to the next idea.

Martha Merrill
Visiting Scholar, Indiana Univ.