Skip to main content

Leadership in international education: leaders’ professional development needs and tensions


This paper explores the professional development needs of leaders in response to emergent demands for leadership and competing pressures within the changing landscape of Australian international education. Framed within Bourdieu’s concepts of field and habitus, this study addresses five dimensions of professional development needs reported by leaders in international education: understanding of and skills to work across cultural differences, knowledge of and expertise to respond to policy changes and emergent trends, leadership and management skills targeted for internationalisation, networking and relationship management skills to work with increasingly diverse and ‘non-traditional’ stakeholders and research skills. However, the social field in which these leaders are functioning is causing tensions for their continuing professional development, including existing institutional governance and structures, financial constraints and the institutional culture that has not put internationalisation on the top of institutional development agenda. The study indicates a critical need for tackling obstacles and supporting sustainable situated professional learning for these leaders so as to enhance their capacities and impact as key players in international education. This study provides empirical and theoretical insights for institutions involved in international education to build effective policies and practices for enhancing professional development for the sustainable international education leadership.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. Beelen, J., & Jones, E. (2015). Europe calling: a new definition for internationalisation at home. International Higher Education, 83, 12–13.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Bourdieu, P. (1990). The logic of practice. Stranford: Stanford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Bourdieu, P. (1998). Practical reason: on the theory of action. Stanford: Stanford University.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bourdieu, P., & Wacquant, L. (1992). An invitation to reflexive sociology. Cambridge: Polity Press.

  5. Coleman, D. (2003). Quality assurance in transnational education. Journal of Studies in International Education, 7(4), 354–378.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Curtis, S. (2013). Implementing internationalisation. Perspectives: policy and practice in higher education, 17(2), 42–47.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Dall'Alba, G., & Sidhu, R. (2015). Australian undergraduate students on the move: experiencing outbound mobility. Studies in Higher Education, 40(4), 721–744.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Daly, A. (2011). Determinants of participating in Australian university student exchange programs. Journal of Research in International Education, 10(1), 58–70.

    Google Scholar 

  9. De Wit, H. (2015). Recent trends and issues in international student mobility. International Higher Education(59):13-14.

  10. De Wit, H. (2018). Leadership challenges in higher education internationalisation: from ad hoc, marginal and fragmented to comprehensive requirements. In J. Beelen & J. Walenkamp (Eds.), Leading internationalisation in higher education: People and policies (pp. 41–47). The Hague: The Hague University of Applied Sciences.

    Google Scholar 

  11. De Wit, H. (2012). The changing role of leadership in international education. University world news. Retrieved on 20/09/2019 from Accessed 20 Sept 2019

  12. Deakin, H. (2013). How and why we should encourage undergraduate geography students to participate in the Erasmus programme. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 37(3), 466–475.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Dumenden, I. E., & English, R. (2013). Fish out of water: refugee and international students in mainstream Australian schools. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 17(10), 1078–1088.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Edgerton, J. D., & Roberts, L. W. (2014). Cultural capital or habitus? Bourdieu and beyond in the explanation of enduring educational inequality. School Field, 12(2), 193–220.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Egron-Polak, E., Hudson, R., & Gacel-Avila, J. (2010). Internationalisation of higher education: Global trends, regional perspectives: IAU 3rd global survey report. Paris: International Association of Universities.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Elo, S., & Kyngäs, H. (2008). The qualitative content analysis process. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 62(1), 107–115.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Heng, T. T. (2019). Understanding the heterogeneity of international students’ experiences: a case study of Chinese international students in US universities. Journal of Studies in International Education, 1028315319829880.

  18. Heyl, J. D., & Tullbane, J. (2012). Leadership in international higher education. The Sage Handbook of International Higher Education, 113-130.

  19. Hudzik, J. K. (2014). Comprehensive internationalisation: Institutional pathways to success. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Hudzik, J. K., & Stohl, M. (2012). Comprehensive and strategic internationalisation of US higher education. D. k. Deardoff, H. de Wit, JD Heyl & T. Adams (Eds.), SAGE handbook of international higher education, 61-81.

  21. Jenkins, R. (2002). Pierre Bourdieu (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

  22. Jones, E., & Killick, D. (2013). Graduate attributes and the internationalized curriculum: Embedding a global outlook in disciplinary learning outcomes. Journal of Studies in International Education, 17(2), 165–182.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Kettle, M. (2005). Agency as discursive practice: from “nobody” to “somebody” as an international student in Australia. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 25(1), 45–60.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Knight, J. (2004). Internationalisation remodeled: definition, approaches, and rationales. Journal of Studies in International Education, 8(1), 5–31.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Kosmützky, A., & Putty, R. (2016). Transcending borders and traversing boundaries: a systematic review of the literature on transnational, offshore, cross-border, and borderless higher education. Journal of Studies in International Education, 20(1), 8–33.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Leask, B. (2015). Internationalizing the curriculum. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Marginson, S & van der Wende, M (2006). Globalisation and higher education, OECD.

  28. Marginson, S. (2018). Trends in global education. Speech at Centre for Global Higher Education. Oxford: The University of Oxford.

  29. Maringe, F. (2009). Strategies and challenges of internationalisation in HE: an exploratory study of UK universities. International Journal of Educational Management, 23(7), 553–563.

    Google Scholar 

  30. McBurnie, G., & Ziguras, C. (2014). Governing cross-border higher education. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Middlehurst, R. (2008). Leadership and internationalisation. In C. Shiel & A. McKenzie (Eds.), The global university: the role of senior managers (pp. 15–19). London: DEA.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Murray, D., Goedegebuure, L., Van Liempd, H., & Vermeulen, M. (2014). Leadership needs in international higher education in Australia and Europe. EAIE: Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Nolan, R., & Hunter, F. (2012). Institutional strategies and international programs: learning from experiences of change. In D. K. Deardorff, H. de Wit, J. D. Heyl, & T. Adams (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of international higher education (pp. 131–145). Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington: SAGE.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Streitwieser, B., & Ogden, A. C. (2016). International higher education’s scholar-practitioners: bridging research and practice. Oxford, Symposium Books Ltd.

  35. Tran, L. T. (2016). ‘Mobility as becoming’: a Bourdieuian analysis of the factors shaping international student mobility. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 37(8), 1268–1289.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Tran, L. T., & Soejatminah, S. (2016). ‘Get foot in the door’: International students’ perceptions of work-integrated learning. British Journal of Educational Studies, 64(3), 337–355.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Tran, L. T. (2011). Committed, face-value, hybrid or mutual adaptation? The experiences of international students in higher education. Educational Review, 63(1), 79–94.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Tran, L. T. & Marginson, S. (2018). Internationalisation of Vietnamese higher education: An overview. In L. T. Tran & S. Marginson. (2018). (Eds), Internationalisation in Vietnamese Higher Education. (pp.1–18). Dordrecht: Springer.

  39. Tran, L. T. Glen Stafford, Thao Thi Phuong Vu & Mark Rahimi. (2019). Engagement with Asia via the New Colombo Plan: Impact on Australian Students’ Career Directions and Employability. In Hong T. M. Bui, Hoa T. M. Nguyen and Doug Cole (Eds.). Innovate Higher Education to Enhance Graduate Employability, pp.95–106. Abingdon: Routledge.

  40. Yemini, M., Holzmann, V., de Wit, H., Sadeh, E., Stavans, A., & Fadila, D. (2015). The drive to internationalize: perceptions and motivations of Israeli college directors. Higher Education Policy, 28(3), 259–276.

    Google Scholar 

Download references


We would like to express our thanks to the two anonymous reviewers for their very helpful feedback and suggestions that help us significantly improve this manuscript. We acknowledge the valuable contributions of the international education leader participants in this research. We are grateful to the leader-respondents in this research who share with us valuable insights into their professional development needs and practices.


We acknowledge the funding support for this research from the Australian Research Council.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ly Thi Tran.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Tran, L.T., Nghia, T.L.H. Leadership in international education: leaders’ professional development needs and tensions. High Educ 80, 479–495 (2020).

Download citation


  • International education
  • Professional development
  • Social field and habitus
  • Leaders’ needs
  • Tensions