National Policies and Internationalization

NAFSA releases two reports at its annual conference. One focuses on national policies supporting internationalization. The other responds to declining new international enrollments in the U.S.

May 30, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A report released Wednesday at the NAFSA: Association of International Educators annual conference looks at national policies supporting the internationalization of higher education in the Americas.

The report -- “The Shape of Global Higher Education: The Americas” -- focuses on national policies in the U.S. and Canada as well as four Latin American countries: Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico. It was released by NAFSA in conjunction with the British Council and builds on a similar report the council released this month focused primarily on national higher education policies in Europe.

The researchers score countries on 37 indicators variously related to their internationalization strategies, their policies on student and academic mobility and research, their policies on transnational higher education, their policies relating to quality assurance and credential evaluation, and funding support for student and faculty mobility.

Out of 20 countries compared in the report, the Netherlands has the highest overall score, followed by Germany, Ireland, Australia and Poland. Canada ranks 10th out of 20, and the U.S. 13th. The four Latin American countries rank 17th through 20th.

However, Alex Usher, the main author of the report and the president of the Toronto-based Higher Education Strategy Associates, emphasized in a presentation Wednesday that the metrics in the study favor European countries in their assumptions. For example, one indicator, regarding foreign degree recognition, asks whether “the process taken by national academic recognition bodies in recognizing foreign qualifications [is] clear, transparent and consistent?” In the U.S., unlike in Europe, credential evaluation is not taken by a national recognition body but instead by individual colleges and universities.

Similarly, another indicator asks about governmental efforts to sign new bilateral agreements with foreign education ministries on higher education collaboration. In the U.S. individual colleges and universities generally take the lead in forging partnerships with their foreign counterparts.

“The assumption is that governments are the prime mover in internationalization policy, and for a whole bunch of reasons that’s not true in Canada or the United States -- it really is institutions that are the driving force,” Usher said. “If you take out a lot of that stuff around where it’s government or institutions, whether it’s decentralized or centralized, actually Canada and the U.S. don’t look that different than Europe on most of these measures.”

Indeed, the report concludes, “In the main, this analysis finds the six countries in the Americas chosen for this study -- Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and the United States -- to all rate slightly lower on our measures of support for international engagement in [higher education] than other national systems with comparable levels of national income (as measured by GDP). In Canada and the U.S., this may not be due to lesser interest in internationalization so much as a different set of institutions and approaches: labor market institutions and credential evaluation are more market-driven, HE policy is more decentralized and the impetus for internationalization lies more with colleges and universities than with governments. But in Canada and the U.S., the drive to attract more international students is strong, albeit mainly for financial reasons. There is therefore little reason to expect that either country will see its scores fall in the near future, though equally their different institutional structures may make it difficult to rise much, either.”

“In the less wealthy Latin American countries, the story is slightly different,” the report continues. “The ability of these countries to attract foreign students is diminished both by the lack of ‘prestige’ institutions and by the fact that very few courses are available in English. That said, any of the three Spanish-speaking countries could become a regional hub for IHE in Spanish because of the large Spanish-speaking Latin American market; Brazil’s attractiveness is diminished further by being several thousand kilometers from any other Portuguese-speaking nations. However, as each of these countries moves closer to having services-based knowledge economies, the need for domestic universities to act as economic drivers will increase and, for that to happen, these institutions’ research strength will need to be increased. One therefore suspects that the emphasis on internationalization in these countries in the years to come will be with respect to international faculty cooperation, or on increased outbound mobility for graduate or postdoctoral students.”

NAFSA also released a separate report on Wednesday about the decline in new international enrollments in the U.S. The report, titled "Losing Talent: An Economic and Foreign Policy Risk America Can't Ignore," cites data from the annual Open Doors report showing two consecutive years of declines in new international enrollments at U.S. colleges and notes survey data showing that "institutions continue to report that prospective international students and their families are concerned about U.S. federal policies and rhetoric on immigration, along with apprehensions of personal safety and tense race relations."

The report also cites Project Atlas data showing that the U.S. share of globally mobile students fell from 28 percent in 2001 to 22 percent in 2018. "We are losing our market share of international students and scholars, while many other countries are proactively introducing national policies and marketing strategies in order to attract these talented individuals," the report says.


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