International Office Professionals: An Example of Street-Level Bureaucrats in Higher Education
2. Street-Level Bureaucracy Theory and IPs as Street-Level Bureaucrats
“In a top-down view, implementation is treated as something that comes next, while blaming the street-level in the case of a perceived implementation failure is a standard reaction. When the policy goals have not been achieved, that is because something in their implementation went wrong. In street-level bureaucracy research, however, a mirror view can be observed: the public official working there while often fulfilling difficult tasks is put centrally.”  (p. 27)
The Concept of Discretion
3. The Management of Internationalization and International Office Professionals
- What difficulties and challenges do IPs face as the SLB of internationalization policies?
- How do IPs use their right of discretion? What are the conditions that lead IPs to use their discretion in line with the internationalization policy of the university?
4.1. Demographics on IPs from Turkish Universities
4.2. Demographics on IPs from Polish Universities
5.1. Professional Challenges
- Signing new partnership agreements and following up on the existing ones;
- Outgoing and incoming student and staff exchange (including internships);
- Organizing international summer school/international staff week;
- Administration of the mobility programs (application to EU, budgeting, reporting, etc.);
- Information dissemination (website, information sessions, posters, social media, etc.);
- Dealing with international visitors/researchers;
- Integration of international students/staff (e.g., orientation programs, welcome center);
- Supporting academic personnel for their international projects;
- University promotion in international fairs;
- Double-degree diploma programs;
- Integration to Erasmus Without Paper (EWP) digital system;
- Integration to “Blended Intended mobility” and virtual mobility programs;
- Reporting to institutional and national authorities.
“The first problem is that our work is poorly understood inside or outside the organization. We do this profession under an enormous workload with a lot of effort. But unfortunately, all the work we do is seen as “student came/student left.” The most challenging thing for me is seeing the work we do become worthless day by day. Our effort and motivation are negatively affected.” (Turkish-IP-18)
“There are many things we do, for example, translating the university regulations into English. The new rector requested translations of all university regulations; hundreds of regulations, of pages.” (Turkish-IP-7)
“For example, we have some international students right now. Even though the deadline for coming was October 15th, we prolonged it for two weeks, so they got here. Yesterday they came, it was November 4th. There are many things like that; they are taking our energy; I got upset for a couple of days; I really don’t know how to talk with these students, to send them back. If we accept them, we will have some other students coming in November next year. It is not possible.” (Poland-IP-14)
“For example, some students are a little more relaxed; they may not be very attached to the rules and are usually late. They can arrive at around eleven, half-past eleven, where they should arrive at 10 am. To solve this problem, we adapt to them. In other words, if the meeting is at 10, we say at 9, for example.” (Turkish-IP-16)
“So as the IP, we have to deal with all types of personalities, the students, their parents, because very often we have students starting university while being 16, these from Ukraine. They finished high school very early, so we had to deal with the parents of very young candidates. So, the age range of our students is between 16 and sometimes 30.” (Poland-IP-16)
“Most of them are going abroad for the first time. Especially in the first year, it is necessary to take care of them closely. Visa procedures, finding an internship or job, accommodation, career services, orientation, etc. Hundreds of e-mails are replied to organize everything.” (Poland-IP-1)
“On the students’ level, I would say the problem would be across probably every university, and it’s connected with the generation and the student’s attitude …in our case, students do not read e-mails, and the communication issue is big. And it’s incredible, and the communication issue is very crucial. So, how can we post announcements in a very short sentence?” (Poland-IP-11)
“These international students are not following anything. For example, they give the wrong e-mail address. We cannot contact the student. He has an exam; I send the exam to the student by e-mail. The student did not check his e-mail. We are experiencing such problems, and these are irreversible problems. We are experiencing problems due to these young students.” (Turkish-IP-11)
5.2. Institutional Challenges
“There is a lack of understanding that internationalization should be a process for the whole university, not only for the international office or not only the authorities but everyone, and every department should be involved.” (Poland-IP-13)
“Every time something is international or in English, it’s immediately sent to my office, even though we are not connected to it. She is international, or it’s your student. It’s this way of thinking. An international student is not a student of the faculty; it’s a student of the international relations office.” (Poland-IP-16)
“And we have a problem. When something is wrong with international students, everyone asks us, even if it is outside of our authority. Once, an international student’s diploma was lost. The vice-rector called me. He wanted me to find the diploma in half an hour. That half-hour, I guess I had a heart attack. Maybe he didn’t give his high school diploma. So maybe there is no diploma around. Is it our responsibility?” (Turkish-IP-6)
“Offices are mostly affected by the rector changes in universities. For example, there is a circulation in the employees; some are dismissed or reappointed. Different assignments. This leaves us behind, leaving no time and opportunity for the offices to deliver their vision.” (Turkish-IP-7)
“We have elections for years, every four years, I mean, for the professors for rectors. But still, you know, someone can become a president or vice president or vice-rector and has had no idea how to manage people or the administration. They have no competencies as far as the area they are going to administer. So, every four or eight years, we have a period of teaching our job, teaching the professors how to do something,... Our position is lower than theirs, so we must adjust to how they work.... Sometimes it’s just hard.” (Poland-IP-14)
“EWP is a huge project and the most demanding. Thousands of universities are trying to use the same software, trials, and tests, but it is not working properly. In every department, there is a faculty member responsible for Erasmus agreements. There is a decentralized policy, but academics are not happy to work like administrative personnel to deal with Erasmus agreements through the EWP system. I am dealing with them by myself.” (Poland-IP-2)
“I mean, we did this as an international office. I started the internationalization of the curriculum in many places. Then, believe me, I got tired of talking to these people and gave up. Because this job is beyond the international office, I don’t know, but it can be realized in the classroom by the teacher and the department faculty. Yes. I mean, even if I pushed it, the realization area was not under my control in the end, so it could not be implemented. I am responsible for the exchange program. However, teaching takes place in the classroom, and we cannot do it because it will be done with the active contribution of the teacher. It is tough.” (Turkish-IP-1)
“I’m afraid I’m not in the group who is developing the strategy, the international strategies, which I think it’s a big mistake, because as an international office, the officer who is dealing with all the things that are within the internationalization (policy), I think we should be a part of the group who is developing the strategies.” (Poland-IP-15)
“Think of it this way, such a strategy is being made, and the international office is not included. In other words, it has been done by people without expertise in this field. Unfortunately, I do not think that our university is taking us very seriously as an international office.” (Turkish-IP-10)
5.3. The Use of Discretion as SLB
“My administrative role is to deal with all red-type processes of exchange students, but on the higher level, we also provide adaptation assistance. We also assist students whenever there is an emergency, pandemic, or epidemiological situation in the country, all the restrictions, and vaccination roll-outs. Although I work fixed hours, I am flexible for the urgent calls of the students. I have helped with their vaccination process during the pandemic” (Poland-IP-4)
“Somehow, some things are not under our obligation or responsibility, but because of these cultural codes in Turkey, we try to solve some things ourselves, to help, in the spirit of hosting. And this brings us extra workload, emotional, moral, and sometimes financial burdens. I can give many examples if you want me to give an example. A student came with his child and his wife. We searched for a place to stay for a week until 10 p.m. Another student came on Friday evening, his scholarship had not been paid, and he had no money; I took him home. Or a few years ago, my family lived in Izmir. Incoming students wanted to visit Izmir. It would be difficult for them to go back, so I took nine female students, we stayed at my parent’s house, and they went to the sea. I can give countless more examples.” (Turkish-IP-15)
“Deadline is December 31st. I know that by December 31st, accreditation applications for institutions will end. If I apply and get accredited, I must write a project. If I write a project, I can send students and receive students. I know there is this opportunity, but I don’t apply because I know that no one can take it all on my own. No one in the administration knows about it anyway. Why should I apply? I’m not applying! I know there is such a possibility, but that requires human resources. I’ve said many times that we need staff, they don’t hire them, so I don’t apply for projects” (Turkish-IP-13)
“When I took charge of the office, I tried to bring some fresh air and make some changes to become more student-friendly and staff-friendly. So, at the moment, for myself, as an international officer or manager, it’s quite difficult and demanding to go through all these old-fashioned procedures at the university and to deal with the administrative staff, non-English speaking administrative staff to change the way of thinking and working of all types of professionals at the university. That’s why I abandoned all efforts; if I am the only one who cares about international students at the university, what is the need for change? Now, I just do my job, and I do not start any new initiative” (Poland-IP-16)
6. Conclusions and Discussion
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
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Bulut-Sahin, B. International Office Professionals: An Example of Street-Level Bureaucrats in Higher Education. Educ. Sci. 2023, 13, 890. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci13090890
Bulut-Sahin B. International Office Professionals: An Example of Street-Level Bureaucrats in Higher Education. Education Sciences. 2023; 13(9):890. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci13090890Chicago/Turabian Style
Bulut-Sahin, Betul. 2023. "International Office Professionals: An Example of Street-Level Bureaucrats in Higher Education" Education Sciences 13, no. 9: 890. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci13090890