Borderless higher education?
University-based migration has become a significant feature of global demographics. Staff and students regularly take part in inter-institutional exchanges, and students will not infrequently choose a a higher education institution for their studies that is not in their own country of origin or residence. Universities that welcome international students often emphasise the benefits of educational globalisation, pointing to the impact of an international campus on intercultural awareness and global networking.
However, the key driver of international higher education these days is an economic one: students from other countries typically bring with them revenues for the host university and economic activity for the region. This makes international recruitment highly desirable for the institutions. But it is likely that students will also increasingly develop an economic perspective on studying abroad, and one illustration of this is a possible trend, identified by the Financial Times newspaper, of English students avoiding higher tuition fees by seeking to study in the branch campuses of British universities overseas (which will charge fees, but often lower fees than are now likely to apply in England).
Higher education has become an import-export business. State agencies are often charged with selling educational products abroad as a way of generating a favourable balance of trade.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with international higher education, not even when it is driven by commercial or economic considerations. But it becomes wrong when it is not designed and planned in such a way as to maximise the educational experience and intercultural benefits. Issues that need to be taken into account are the services and facilities made available to international students, the appropriate mix of domestic and international students within the institution and on individual programmes, and the provision of proper monitoring and training to ensure that students are properly versed in the language of instruction.
A globalised system of higher education is there to stay; but it needs to be one in which quality and principles of pedagogy take the lead over the quest for revenue.
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