International students: for learning or for money?
Just as the prospective Irish government tells us that universities should double the number of international students they recruit, we read that in Britain 10 per cent of university revenues now come from overseas student fees. International education is increasingly not seen as something that links countries culturally and intellectually, but rather as a key export service that helps to improve the balance of payments and provides cash for higher education institutions.
Of course international students do provide an income for their universities, and the funds thereby gained are welcome. But this should not be the primary objective, and once it becomes so universities will be tempted to take commercial and quality risks in order to maximise their revenues.
International students have significant requirements and needs, and they need to be integrated into the host university community while also having the opportunity to share something of their cultural backgrounds. To do this satisfactorily they need to be integrated into classes with a good mix of domestic and international students.
It is undoubtedly desirable for universities to recruit international students. However, this should be done with government support, but without simplistic targets and without a blatantly commercial approach to globalised education.