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Internationalization in higher education: faculty tradeoffs under the social exchange theory

Marcello Romani-Dias (Positivo University, Curitiba, Brazil) (Escola Superior de Engenharia e Gestão (ESEG), Sao Paulo, Brazil)
Jorge Carneiro (Fundacao Getulio Vargas Escola de Administracao de Empresas de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil)

International Journal of Educational Management

ISSN: 0951-354X

Article publication date: 12 December 2019

Issue publication date: 12 March 2020




Although faculty members are regarded as one of the main agents of internationalization in higher education (IHE), research has focused on the upper levels of analysis (e.g. country or educational institution) rather than the individual. The purpose of this paper is to draw from social exchange theory (SET) to examine how the perceptions of costs and expected rewards affect faculty members’ choices of international activities.


This qualitative study adopted as main methods a review of the literature on IHE and in-depth interviews based on a semi-structured script with an international sample. A sample of 16 researches was selected for interview using the snowball technique of sample selection.


The authors verified that faculty may seek internationalization in search of job opportunities, greater social approval, greater autonomy and greater security. On the other hand, temporal, monetary, psychological and physical costs discourage faculty members from seeking international insertion. Based on these tradeoffs, our findings suggest that although the basic tenets of SET do apply, the theory does not explicitly address two issues: the fact that costs and rewards are intricately related, and the apparent mismatch between (short-term) costs and (long-term) expected rewards.


This study contributes to the IHE literature by highlighting the crucial role of faculty – that is, the level of analysis of the individual – which has been under-researched and by setting out the reasoning that supports the decision of faculty members to seek (higher) international insertion. Furthermore, this study extends SET as a plausible explanation for the self-internationalization decision by scholars.



Romani-Dias, M. and Carneiro, J. (2020), "Internationalization in higher education: faculty tradeoffs under the social exchange theory", International Journal of Educational Management, Vol. 34 No. 3, pp. 461-476.



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