In the closing chapter of Staying Global: How International Alumni Relations Advances the Agenda (EAIE, 2015), I respond to this challenge with a recommendation that may help institutions maintain better data management practices while at the same time more authentically engage international constituents. For a vast majority of institutions that define their alumni demographics as “domestic or international,” there is another category to define and engage.
A New Definition
I believe we need to create a new definition for alumni that conduct their personal and professional lives within two or more countries. In 2016 and going forward I believe international education practitioners must welcome and embrace a new constituent: our transnational alumni.
Today’s international education’s trends and future practices support the concept of this new definition. International higher education continues to be defined by increasing international student mobility (e.g., supported by supra-regional policies such as Erasmus Plus) and more multinational employers aspire toward the ideal candidate: graduates with multi-lingual skills, cross-cultural competence, and a desire to advance their professions abroad.
Aside from the classic definition of international alumni as “alumni who provide contact information outside the country where their degree was granted,” what about the alumni body that experiences multiple campuses and, therefore, represents an institutional diaspora with an international footprint? INSEAD doesn’t distinguish between domestic and international alumni — they are all global. Can they all be called transnational?
Moreover, alumni who were international students and, since graduation, have returned to the country of their foreign study — or never left after graduation — are likely counted as “domestic” because their domicile is coded as such. When schools utilize a more strategic mechanism for tracking this body, institutions gain a valuable international diaspora at their doorstep.
Better Data, Better Relationships
Qualified and accurate data are important key performance indicators (KPIs) for an institution; so, too, are measurements of alumni engagement.
Databases need to include a new field for transnational alumni and code countries of origin, languages spoken, international social media profiles, and other characteristics that would be valuable and important for institutions around the world. Once identified, we need to employ this new definition to better track alumni. Next, institutions invite all alumni to update their contact information. Alumni now have an option of registering themselves under this moniker and designating themselves as “transnational alumni,” those alumni who reside abroad but have reason to come back to the country where their alma mater is based due to personal or professional reasons. We can take this one step further by creating a different – but interconnected – category of “transnational domestic alumni,” those that are living in country where they attended school but travel regularly outside of country for personal or professional reasons.
Zeba Salman, Manager of Alumni Relations and Annual Giving for SOAS, University of London, believes there is great merit in the notion of expanding our lexicon for alumni. “I have this database,” she states, “but Google Hangouts and LinkedIn are my go-to resources when I want to know whom the alumni are and where they are located.” She adds, “given how difficult it is to meet alumni in certain places in the world (e.g., Gulf Region), I ask alumni if they can meet in Dubai because it is easier to go there than Pakistan. I also believe alumni from India will fly from Delhi to Lahore and then to Dubai to save money. If I was aware of which alumni traveled regularly between these countries we can enhance our communication and efforts abroad.”
I believe higher education is about people: students, faculty, administration, alumni, families, communities and other friends whom align to a college or university’s mission, resources, and brand. Today, internationalization – the global agenda – on campuses around the world focuses on an integrated strategy that supports international student and scholar recruitment, international academic partnerships, and the development of key regions where international alumni and friends are engaged in sustainable, meaningful and relevant ways to advance the global footprint of their university.
Transnational alumni and transnational domestic alumni are strategic partners in the international story of the institution. By adopting a relevant and more meaningful affiliation for this group of graduates, we begin to build a global mindset for alumni and support a 21st century international vision for our institutions.