'Higher Education on the Move'

WASHINGTON -- An estimated 2.9 million students worldwide are pursuing their educations outside their home countries, a 57 percent increase since 1999.

May 6, 2009

WASHINGTON -- An estimated 2.9 million students worldwide are pursuing their educations outside their home countries, a 57 percent increase since 1999. At a round table discussion at the Institute of International's Education's Washington offices Tuesday, coinciding with the release of the institute's new book, Higher Education on the Move: New Developments in Global Mobility, participants discussed the implications of that figure and other trends and trajectories not only in student mobility, but in scholar and institutional mobility, as well.

Participants often described the three phenomena as interconnected, with scholar mobility driving institutional mobility and institutional mobility driving student mobility. Sabine O'Hara, executive director of the Council for International Exchange of Scholars and vice president of IIE, described scholar mobility as "maybe a little overlooked" in terms of its impact on students and the overall international character of a college.

Her chapter in the book cites data from a 2007 study at Seton Hall University finding significant correlations between time spent abroad and the international content of a faculty member's teaching and research. "Faculty who spent one to two years abroad are almost twice as likely to incorporate international themes in their courses as those who spent no time abroad; and faculty members who spent more than two years abroad were nearly three times as likely to incorporate international perspectives into their courses. Faculty members who spent time abroad are also three to five times more likely to have a research agenda that is international in scope. In fact, time spent abroad proved

Photo: Institute of International Education Books

more influential than being foreign-born or than experiencing institutional pressures to internationalize."

Yet, problematically for U.S. faculty members, they're among the least mobile worldwide, ranking last among 14 countries on measures like percentage of articles published in a foreign country or co-written with foreign colleagues.

The chapter on scholar mobility also features brief case studies of Fulbright Scholars who leveraged their individual experiences abroad into institution-wide international collaborations. Pascal Delisle, cultural attaché and executive director of the Partner University Fund for the French Embassy, described a need for institutions to increasingly drive student mobility.

While that 57 percent increase since 1999 is important, given worldwide enrollment patterns, "it's nothing explosive like we can expect," Delisle said in an interview. He pointed out that the main engine for student mobility has heretofore been individual in nature, based on student and family decisions, and so international exchange is limited to that pool of people who have the information and financial wherewithal to pursue it on their own, without the support of faculty or administrators. "If we are to see a real internationalization of higher education, the real engine will not be students and their families, the engine will be the institution," Delisle said.

What about that 57 percent increase in border-hopping students over the past decade -- does that number stand to continue growing at such a rate, in light of the global recession (and, of course, so many other factors)?

"I'm sure that there is still considerable potential for growth but I think the rate of growth will slow because the major expansion has already taken place," said Anthony Smallwood, first counselor and spokesperson for the Delegation of the European Commission.

Alan Ruby, senior fellow for international education at the University of Pennsylvania, agreed that the rate of growth will slow but said the raw numbers will keep going up. "The forces that have essentially driven growth have been economic forces that have increased the size of the middle class in the main sending countries," he said -- in the United States' case, China and India.

The size of the middle class will probably continue to grow, as will aspirations -- particularly in China, he said, where the government's one-child policy equates to three sets of very involved adults per child (the parents and the parents' parents), and where personal savings rates dwarf those in the U.S. However, as the sending countries have expanded their own higher education systems, there has already been a discernible shift toward the choice to pursue graduate as opposed to undergraduate education abroad (at least in the case of Chinese students coming to the U.S.), Ruby said.

More immediately, Wang Xiaoyang, the speaker and second secretary for the Embassy of China's education office, described an increasing interest in overseas study even in this economic climate. "They think it's a good time to study and later find a job," he said.

More broadly, the opening chapter of Higher Education on the Move depicts a world in which eight countries -- the U.S., United Kingdom, Germany, France, Australia, China, Canada and Japan -- host 72 percent of the world's international students, but in which other, traditionally sending countries are also emerging as destinations.

"Newer host countries such as China are seeing rapid increases in the numbers of international students. Several other countries in the Asia Pacific region -- Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and New Zealand, to name a few -- have stepped up their efforts to internationalize and to attract more international students. Even though this has resulted in a somewhat smaller market share for the U.S., we believe that this is a positive development as it has brought more countries into the field of international education and has changed the dynamic between sending and receiving countries from a unidirectional 'brain drain' type of mobility to one of true mutual exchange," according to a chapter co-written by Rajika Bhandari and Peggy Blumenthal, both of IIE.

The book also includes chapters on the General Agreement on Trade in Services, and the implications for one of the services covered by the agreement, education; joint and dual degree programs; and (everyone's favorite, or least favorite) "higher education rankings and the global 'battle for talent,' " among other topics.


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