Rank­ings data re­veal ris­ing pow­ers of in­ter­na­tion­al­i­sa­tion

On in­ter­na­tion­al­i­sa­tion, some ri­vals are pulling ahead of the UK, data show. Si­mon Baker re­ports

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - Si­mon.baker@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

In­ter­na­tion­al­i­sa­tion is a higher ed­u­ca­tion buzz­word that some­times lacks a clear def­i­ni­tion. Is it about how many over­seas stu­dents a uni­ver­sity re­cruits? Does it mean es­tab­lish­ing a branch cam­pus on the other side of the globe? Or is it the sum of a uni­ver­sity’s cross-bor­der re­search links?

Pos­si­bly all of the above ap­ply, but what is cer­tainly true is that de­spite the re­cent fo­cus on the need for higher ed­u­ca­tion to re­con­nect lo­cally, in­ter­na­tion­al­i­sa­tion is still gen­er­ally seen as some­thing that uni­ver­si­ties and coun­tries should be em­brac­ing.

And ac­cord­ing to data from the past four years of Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion’s World Uni­ver­sity Rank­ings, some na­tions have been em­brac­ing it more quickly than oth­ers.

The data, from the “in­ter­na­tional out­look” pil­lar of the rank­ings – which mea­sures uni­ver­si­ties’ share of over­seas stu­dents, staff and cross­bor­der re­search – show that the group of coun­tries with the most in­ter­na­tion­alised sys­tems has re­mained rel­a­tively con­stant.

But what is strik­ing is that some have jumped ahead of oth­ers in this lead­ing pack. Hong Kong, Canada, the Nether­lands and Aus­tralia have all made strides rel­a­tive to their com­peti­tors while oth­ers, most no­tably the UK, have not.

A look at the in­di­vid­ual met­rics re­veals fur­ther in­trigu­ing pat­terns. As on the over­all pil­lar, Aus­tralia’s ranked uni­ver­si­ties are now ahead of the UK on in­ter­na­tional stu­dents – and other na­tions seem to be catch­ing up fast.

While it is im­por­tant to stress that the av­er­age scores re­flect only ranked uni­ver­si­ties – in other words, re­search-fo­cused in­sti­tu­tions in each coun­try – they do tie in with ob­serv­able pol­icy shifts.

In terms of stu­dents, Cana­dian uni­ver­si­ties have been clear about their am­bi­tions to re­cruit from over­seas, backed up by a gov­ern­ment pol­icy that of­fers stu­dents a firm prospect of set­tling and work­ing post-grad­u­a­tion. Aus­tralia, mean­while, re­versed poli­cies deemed un­friendly to over­seas stu­dent re­cruit­ment, and Dutch re­search in­sti­tu­tions have led con­ti­nen­tal Europe in ex­pand­ing num­bers, in large part thanks to English be­com­ing a dom­i­nant lan­guage of in­struc­tion.

The data mostly pre­date the UK’s Brexit vote, but the coun­try’s stalling on the met­ric is likely to be linked to re­stric­tions on post-study work op­por­tu­ni­ties and a per­cep­tion that it was be­com­ing less open to stu­dents. But will these trends con­tinue? Hans de Wit, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for In­ter­na­tional Higher Ed­u­ca­tion at Bos­ton Col­lege, said that while Canada’s in­ter­na­tional stu­dent boom showed no sign of slow­ing, es­pe­cially with the UK and the US less at­trac­tive be­cause of Brexit and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s poli­cies, he thought that the Nether­lands had pos­si­bly reached “the limit” of its ex­pan­sion.

“In the Nether­lands now, the de­bate about teach­ing in English is very politi­cised, we see that there are ca­pac­ity prob­lems with uni­ver­si­ties [lack­ing] the ac­com­mo­da­tion for in­ter­na­tional stu­dents…so both in [terms of] ser­vices and the po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural di­men­sion I don’t think growth will be in­creas­ing,” he said.

Asked which Euro­pean coun­tries could step into this breach, Pro­fes­sor de Wit pointed to Ger­many and France as pos­si­bly be­ing more “able to ab­sorb de­mand for in­ter­na­tional stu­dents” be­cause in Scan­di­na­vian na­tions such as Den­mark and Swe­den, there was also a feel­ing of “reach­ing [their] limit of be­com­ing more in­ter­na­tion­alised”.

Vin­cent Car­pen­tier, reader in the his­tory of ed­u­ca­tion at the UCL In­sti­tute of Ed­u­ca­tion, said that although France had lagged be­hind coun­tries such as the UK and the Nether­lands, its sys­tem “has al­ways been rea­son­ably in­ter­na­tional”.

But re­cent leaps in French in­ter­na­tion­al­i­sa­tion – in terms of stu­dent re­cruit­ment, at least – were down to in­volve­ment in Euro­pean Union pro­grammes, a “cul­tural shift” to­wards a more global out­look and other “key changes such as the in­tro­duc­tion of cour­ses in English”.

Dr Car­pen­tier added that the chal­lenges for France could be en­sur­ing that “in­ter­na­tion­al­i­sa­tion doesn’t in­crease the in­equal­i­ties be­tween in­sti­tu­tions” and de­vel­op­ing teach­ing “for the ben­e­fits of both French and in­ter­na­tional stu­dents”.

An­other chal­lenge faced by any Euro­pean coun­try look­ing to at­tract more in­ter­na­tional stu­dents from out­side the con­ti­nent is the grow­ing at­trac­tive­ness of Asian na­tions.

“They have the ad­van­tage of

be­ing cheaper and be­ing open to [in­ter­na­tional stu­dents] – it is part of their re­gional pol­icy to do that. So I think that trend will in­crease,” Pro­fes­sor de Wit said.

Many view Malaysia as best placed to cap­i­talise on this shift.

“It is seen as hav­ing the op­por­tu­nity, a wel­com­ing at­ti­tude to­wards [those from] Is­lamic coun­tries, [teach­ing] in English and you will get a rea­son­ably cheap qual­i­fi­ca­tion,” Pro­fes­sor de Wit said, adding that it could have more ca­pac­ity than cur­rent pop­u­lar hubs such as Sin­ga­pore.

What of the other fast-de­vel­op­ing na­tions in Asia, not least China?

Xiao Han, re­search as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at Ling­nan Uni­ver­sity, Hong Kong, said that East Asian na­tions aim­ing to em­u­late the suc­cess of Hong Kong and Sin­ga­pore faced “sev­eral dif­fi­cul­ties” in­clud­ing the lim­ited num­ber of cour­ses in English and poor post-study work op­por­tu­ni­ties.

But on this lat­ter point, China al­ready seems to be ad­dress­ing the sit­u­a­tion. Dr Han said that it had “re­cently loos­ened its con­trol over for­eign stu­dents’ work­ing visa ap­pli­ca­tions when [it re­alised that] the aim of a great pro­por­tion of in­ter­na­tional stu­dents study­ing in China was work­ing there”.

Of course, in­ter­na­tional stu­dent re­cruit­ment is just one small as­pect of in­ter­na­tion­al­i­sa­tion.

In the in­ter­na­tional pil­lar of the rank­ings, which also looks at re­cruit­ment of aca­demic staff from over­seas, Canada now has a higher av­er­age score than the UK, with the Nether­lands al­most on a par with both na­tions.

And on in­ter­na­tional re­search col­lab­o­ra­tion, where the Nether­lands and Swe­den were al­ready strong, Hong Kong stands out as mak­ing progress, as well as Aus­tralia, which has over­taken the UK.

Phil Honey­wood, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the In­ter­na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion of Aus­tralia, said that the “strong shift” in the bal­ance of world­wide re­search to­wards the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion meant that it was well placed to ben­e­fit.

“Whereas tra­di­tion­ally most re­search col­lab­o­ra­tion took place be­tween Aus­tralian aca­demics and their Euro­pean or North Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts, we have seen ma­jor growth in im­por­tant re­search joint ef­forts be­tween In­dian-Aus­tralian re­searchers and their col­leagues back in the sub­con­ti­nent and Chi­ne­seAus­tralian re­searchers and their col­leagues back in China,” he said.

“As Aus­tralia’s mi­grant pop­u­la­tion from the Indo-Pa­cific re­gion grows, our aca­demics are lever­ag­ing this sig­nif­i­cant di­as­pora pull fac­tor.”

Mean­while, Pro­fes­sor de Wit said that an­other vi­tal as­pect of in­ter­na­tion­al­i­sa­tion – which is not cap­tured in the rank­ings – was stu­dents’ ex­pe­ri­ence of other cul­tures.

“The study-abroad fac­tor…is more im­por­tant in the US and con­ti­nen­tal Europe than, for in­stance, in the UK or Aus­tralia or Canada, where there are con­cerns about the very few stu­dents with in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence,” he said. “Those con­cerns have to be ad­dressed as well and [are] an im­por­tant fac­tor in how suc­cess­ful you are at be­ing an in­ter­na­tion­alised sys­tem or in­sti­tu­tion.”

Good data on this are some­times hard to come by, es­pe­cially since in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence could be achieved through a short place­ment abroad rather than com­plet­ing a de­gree course in an­other coun­try.

But the lat­est fig­ures in the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion and Devel­op­ment’s Ed­u­ca­tion at a Glance re­port show, at least for en­rol­ments abroad, which coun­tries are in­creas­ing both their out­bound and in­bound stu­dent traf­fic.

China is no­tice­able as be­ing one of the na­tions with strong growth in both direc­tions (see graph above).

And per­haps, in the long run, it could have the most po­ten­tial to be­come the next highly in­ter­na­tion­alised sys­tem, given that it is al­ready the num­ber one source for stu­dents study­ing abroad and is now look­ing to be­come an in­ter­na­tional des­ti­na­tion of choice, too.

It is even, as Dr Han noted, now set­ting up branch cam­puses abroad.

“China is now try­ing to pro­mote the in­ter­na­tion­al­i­sa­tion of higher ed­u­ca­tion in many as­pects,” she said. “Against the con­text of [the] ‘One Belt, One Road’ [trade pro­gramme]… in­ter­na­tion­al­is­ing ed­u­ca­tion is now tightly linked to China’s global strat­egy,” she added.

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