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WASHINGTON -- The extent to which money does and should dictate the global exchange of college students was a touchy topic at a meeting of 16 nations held in conjunction with the G8 Summit.

Most agree that studying abroad brings qualitative benefits for the students who go, the universities that receive them and the nations on both ends of the exchange. But it’s hard to monetize the value of increased mutual understanding, and considerably easier to calculate tuition and housing expenses.

Delegations from 15 nations and the European Union -- which included every G8 country and representatives from every inhabited continent except Africa -- found common ground on the big-picture issues during the two-day conference convened by the Institute of International Education.

Everyone stands to benefit from a multilingual, globally aware, well-educated citizenry, delegates generally agreed. But variations, both ideological and logistical, emerged when discussing each nation’s goals with international education and the ways they finance those goals.

“The issue of mobility is becoming more of a challenge for universities and countries because funds are short and at the same students are becoming more and more demanding,” said Xavier Prats Monné, a delegate from the European Union.

The United States, for example, is a significant sender of students abroad and an even more significant recipient of foreign students. A few Americans who go abroad receive government assistance in the form of Fulbright or Gilman Scholarships, but most do so on their own dime with perhaps some help from a university. And while the U.S. government also gives Fulbrights to exceptional students coming into the country, many colleges count on foreigners to pay full sticker price and reinforce the institutions' coffers. Inside Higher Ed's 2011 survey of admissions officers revealed that international students are increasingly a target for colleges trying to balance their budgets. 

Money is widely cited as the biggest barrier to students of all nationalities studying overseas, and also as a reason some countries and universities are eager to expand their international footprint.

For a developing nation such as Malaysia, partnering with foreign colleges provides a means to improve the work force and strengthen the economy. Wealthier nations receive some of those same benefits when their students enroll abroad, but are also positioned to profit monetarily.

“Economic impact is different when you come from an emerging economy,” said Malaysia’s Siti Hamisah Tapsir, deputy director general of her nation’s ministry of higher education. Hamisah’s country is home to five branch campuses of universities in Britain and Australia, while some Malaysian universities have set up their own branch campuses in Africa or elsewhere in Asia. “International education helps us improve our education system,” she said.

But some bristle at the notion of international education being a moneymaker, while others just can’t afford a semester in London or Los Angeles. Speaking about both the high cost of college in other countries and the proliferation of English as the primary language of international learning, a member of the French delegation was critical.

“It’s one vision of the world and we are against this vision of the world,” said Béatrice Khaiat, deputy director of CampusFrance, an organization that promotes foreign study in France.

International students studying in France receive government-subsidized tuition along with housing benefits and social security.  Public higher education in Brazil is free for anyone regardless of nationality. Germany doesn’t charge fees to its overseas students.

“The goal we have is to win friends for Germany,” said Sebastian Fohrbeck, director of the New York arm of the German Academic Exchange Service.

All three countries remain committed to attracting international students, saying there’s more to be gained from inviting foreigners than just a tuition check.

That’s made those destinations more attractive to foreign students, one member of the Indonesian delegation said.

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