Posted tagged ‘overseas students’

The decline of globalisation in higher education?

March 20, 2012

The most recent statistics released by Ireland’s Higher Education Authority (Higher Education: Key Facts and Figures 2010-11) contain some interesting information. One of the things we learn is that international student recruitment by Irish universities and colleges has stalled and may be in decline.  During the past academic year the numbers went down for all the key countries and regions, with the sole exception of recruitment from other EU countries. In so far as international student recruitment supports the finances of the sector, recruitment from EU countries does not make a contribution as the students do not pay tuition fees.

Overall, international students account for a mere 7 per cent of the Irish student body. This compares with 17 per cent in the United Kingdom, though some evidence suggests that new visa rules in the UK may also be about to have a negative effect on numbers there. In the UK this may to some extent be compensated for by a continuing strong rise in students studying for a British degree in their own countries.

But what of Ireland? The  percentage of international students is already too low. It is not just that international students bring money, they also create a more cosmopolitan and diverse student body and enhance the experience for home students. It would be wholly negative if the trend towards a more international kind of higher education were to be reversed. There is work to be done.

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International students – no longer welcome?

February 7, 2012

One of the key features of higher education across the developed world in recent years has been the growth of student migration. Students have increasingly been encouraged to consider universities in other countries when making their study choices, and this has led to a very significant internationalisation of higher education. Some countries – and the United States of America in particular – have a long record of attracting overseas students, many of whom then stayed and contributed to innovation and economic growth. And while it may not have been something that was always stressed as part of the reason for international student recruitment, host countries tended to benefit significantly from the tuition fees paid by these students.

But in Britain at any rate, is this about to come to an end? Over the past while UK visa regulations have placed increasing burdens both on overseas students coming into the country and on the universities in which they wish to study. It is a highly bureaucratic and intrusive framework, and it has been seen in many countries from which students have been recruited as indicating that foreign students are no longer welcome in Britain. And now, this has been reinforced by some political messages. British Immigration Minister Damian Green, describing as ‘beneficial’ a drop of 11 per cent in student visas, recently said the following in a speech:

‘Of course international students bring economic and wider benefits. But … there is scope for further examination of whether and to what extent foreign student tuition fees boost the UK economy and crucially how UK residents ultimately benefit from that. We need a better understanding of the economic and social costs and benefits of student migration: from the point of view of the wider UK economy, the education sector itself and the students themselves.    There needs to be a focus on quality rather than quantity. The principle of selectivity should apply to student migration just as it does to work migration.’

The Minister is therefore suggesting that attracting overseas students, even very good ones, is not necessarily positive, and he voices doubts about the economic impact or benefit of their fees. He also shows no awareness of or sympathy for the wider principle of an international dimension to higher education.

In many countries, and in Britain in particular, debates about immigration quickly turn into unpleasant discussions in which gut suspicions, sometimes mixed at least a little with xenophobia, distort rational decision-making. The current trend of UK policies on immigration is bizarre, and is undermining the global reputation of British higher education. There are traces of this also in other countries. None of this makes sense, and it undermines the ethos of higher education. Politicians need to think again, urgently.

Questioning the international education option

October 15, 2010

University studies, as we know, have become a globalised activity. Over the past decade or two there has been an explosion in student migration, and the more developed university systems (and it would have to be said, the English language ones in particular) have hosted increasingly large numbers from countries where higher education did not have the capacity to meet all local demand, or who wanted to enjoy a more international student experience.

Perhaps the country that pursued international markets with the greatest energy and professionalism was Australia.  Australian universities became highly active and skilled recruiters, in Asian countries in particular, and they also developed the practice of establishing branch campuses in overseas locations. At one point in the late 1990s I was watching with awe as Monash University established itself in Malaysia, South Africa and even London, creating a dynamic multinational brand. During this period, higher education became one of Australia’s foremost export products and a major contributor to resources and employment for the country.

But now all that is coming under stress. Currently Australia has around 214,000 overseas students studying in its universities (more than the entire Irish university student population), but researchers from Curtin University predict that this will fall to 148,000 over the coming five years, with a loss of AUS$ 7 billion to the economy. Already Monash University may be making 300 staff redundant as a result of falling overseas student numbers. The reasons for this are many, including operational matters such as visa rules, and competition from other countries. But I suspect that more of it is to do with changing attitudes in some of the countries from which students are recruited, who are now less willing to be one-way importers of another country’s educational products.

Taking all this closer to home, what should we be concluding? First, I believe that the volume trade in international students is coming to an end. The idea that students from, say, Asia might come and help some European or other western country’s balance of payments, or more than that, help subsidise domestic students is no longer viable (just as some politicians in Ireland are, ironically, warming to that theme). That was never really a global business anyway, it was just a case of exploiting market opportunities.

This does not mean that student migration will no longer happen; rather it means that it will happen as part of a broader package of collaborative and strategic partnerships, which will involve mutually helpful arrangements between countries and institutions, and which will be based not just on teaching some migrants who are all coming one way, but rather on exchanges and research partnerships. It requires a totally different mindset. Reaching out overseas will still be a higher education imperative, but not based solely or mainly on generating an export business. It is time for international education to become an educational, rather than mainly an economic, option.