MIT’s Current Internationalization Practice and its Features from Global Strategic Perspectives

International Affairs Division 2021-09-15 676

【Editor’s note】

Do you want to see what SJTU is like with its increasing international exposure in the future?

Do you want to find out which project you’re working on is more important, far-reaching, and sustainable in the future?

And do you want to take a break from your monotonous work and seek for breakthroughs for the next step?

You may as well think out of box and take a look at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) , an institute with moreinternational presence and better management systems. Given the similarities between the two institutes It may allow us to get a glimpse of what SJTU would look like in the future by studying what MIT is doing now, who would shape where we will go in the future.

Given that internationalization is felt in every part of university education, here we will provide a concise summary of MIT’s status quo in internationalization and its future measures, based on “A Global Strategy for MIT” to reflect what we can learn from its philosophy and practice.

【Main body】

(A Global Strategy for MIT[[[] MIT. A Global Strategy for MIT.]]):

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has put forward “A Global Strategy for MIT” since 1991, which has been renewed to the 6th edition. This article is based on the latest edition released in May 2017. Here are excerpts from it.

Photo 1: Richard K. Lester, MIT Associate Provost for International Activities and team leader of the strategy’s development 

1. Status quo in Internationalization

1.1 International characteristics

MIT positions the trademarks of its Global MIT as the following: encouraging its students to have practical programs or internships abroad; sharing its achievements in education, research, innovation, and entrepreneurship with the innovation ecosystems in the rest of the world; and allowing its faculty members and students to conduct practice and research across the globe as global problem-solvers. Internationalization can be conducted based on the core values and characteristics of MIT. And these characteristics of MIT are closely correlated with its overall education, such as practice, innovation, and application. Only by centering around the core values and characteristics can a university avoid deviating from its original aspirations for internationalization.

2.2 Campus internationalization

The first international student, Ichiro Hongma, arrived from Japan just nine years after MIT’s founding. The international character of the campus has deepened over the last two decades. The share of non-U.S. students in MIT’s total undergraduate enrollment has remained between 10%–11%. But the share of international graduate students, post-doctoral scholars, and faculty increased by around 40%, 65%, and 43%.

Photo 2: 3,274 international students are enrolled in degree programs at MIT (448 undergraduates and 2,826 graduate students)

2.3 Educational internationalization

Half of the graduating seniors reported having at least one international educational experience, up from 23% a decade earlier. For some undergraduates this involves traditional study-abroad programs at other universities. For many more it means practical internships and experiential learning opportunities. MIT has provided many opportunities and funding for international education of their students. Relatively few MIT students opt to participate in exchange programs, and most opt for shorter stays abroad, in January or over the summer. This is because the intensity and cumulative nature of the MIT curriculum is a significant barrier to overcome, and because the opportunities to engage in research at MIT itself are so great.

2.4 Research internationalization

International sponsorship of MIT research has been growing rapidly. Although much of this work is carried out at MIT, it often entails reciprocal visits by MIT faculty and students to work with international collaborators, using leading international experimental facilities. Many MIT programs provide opportunities for faculty and students to carry out research internationally. For example, the SMART Center in Singapore is home to more than 200 MIT faculty, staff, post-docs, and students.

2. International Features

2.1 High profitability of internationalization

In addition to international student tuition fees, international cooperation in scientific research has become a key part of MIT’s research funding. Between 2006 and 2016, the dollar volume of international sponsorship grew three-fold, and by 2016 accounted for 18% of all sponsored activity at MIT. Firms headquartered outside the U.S. account for over half of corporate R&D funding on campus. Internationalization has also provided MIT with indirect funding. As the research funding in other countries has grown more rapidly than the US, the MIT faculty in humanities and social sciences can use the opportunity of international cooperation to carry out field research around the world and the faculty in natural sciences can use leading international experimental facilities at the laboratories globally through international cooperation as well.

2.2 Ever-increasing global presence

[3] Photo Credit:

MIT underlines its global presence as the essence of its internationalization effort. It has gradually increased its involvement in major international institution-building projects in the recent two decades, aimed at expediting its scope of resources, increasing funding and potentially raising its impact. The five major institution-building projects that it now engages in are the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART), the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in the UAE, the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology in Moscow and the engineering research and educational institutions in Portugal that have been upgraded and are now in the tenth year. Other large international capacity-building projects have been coordinated at the school or department level, such as the Sloan School’s engagement with the Asia School of Business in Malaysia and its programs to upgrade management education at several Chinese universities, as well as the Mechanical Engineering Department’s collaboration with King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Saudi Arabia and the China activities of the Sam Tak Lee Real Estate Entrepreneurship Lab in the School of Architecture and Planning. And as shown in the MIT China Summit 2018, MIT has conducted 14 collaborative projects of various scales in China, including building some small-scale collaborative entities, such as the Ningbo China Institute for Supply Chain Innovation, an institute jointly built by the Ningbo Municipal Government and MIT.


Photo 3: MIT President L. Rafael Reif at the MIT China Summit

2.3 Broad faculty engagement

A majority of MIT faculty members take part in international education, research, and service activities. As other countries have seen a significant rise in research funding, MIT professors are aware that international cooperation can bring more capital and opportunities and are spontaneously involved in international cooperation. The share of all MIT publications with international co-authors rose from 25% in 2001 to 50% in 2016. And almost 40% of the MIT faculty supervised foreign-sponsored projects. Also, MIT faculty members have participated in its international cooperation through the faculty committee and faculty working groups to provide advice and management.

2.4 Definite matrix of responsibilities at MIT and school levels

MIT has a high degree of international development, where its various schools play a major role, planning, implementing and undertaking various projects on their own. Under MIT’s strategic framework, individual faculty members initiate and implement most of MIT’s international activities. The role of the MIT administration is to provide a solid and lasting platform for individual international activities: putting in place emergency response systems and encouraging faculty and students to go abroad by ensuring services and resources; leading the development of MIT strategies to provide principles for MIT international activities; and selecting those international activities on a larger scale and with a wider coverage when it comes to developing and expanding large projects, for example, on climate, energy, clean water, public health, and urbanization, or building on MIT’s own large institution-building projects, which reflects the different approaches by the executives at the MIT and school levels.

In addition to what have been presented above, there are some other remarkable efforts as well. For example, in international cooperation, MIT has laid emphasis on its relations with the business community, and in terms of research cooperation, it has benefited significantly from its cooperation with foreign businesses. Meanwhile, some at MIT have raised doubts about internationalization or take a wait-and-see attitude. For example, some teachers at MIT believe that MIT faculty and students have spent a great deal of time in overseas institution building, during which, international travels might be exhausting and that overseas exchange system should be further improved.


Due to space constraints and limited time, we only show a tiny part of “A Global Strategy for MIT”. We are sorry for any mistranslation here. From it we have learned MIT’s risk management approach to internationalization and its elaboration on the balance between globalization and the national interest of the US. Therefore, the Strategy is highly recommended for any interested faculty members and students.


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