Na­tion­al­ism will trig­ger a new wave of stu­dent mo­bil­ity

Rahul Choudaha, ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent of global en­gage­ment, re­search and in­tel­li­gence at StudyPor­tals

THE (Times Higher Education) - - OPINION -

The new po­lit­i­cal or­der has started im­pact­ing the mo­bil­ity choices, pat­terns and di­rec­tions of international stu­dents. On the one hand, the top two lead­ing des­ti­na­tions

– the US and the UK – are fac­ing un­cer­tainty in main­tain­ing at­trac­tive­ness for international stu­dents; while on the other hand, countries such as Canada, Ger­many, Aus­tralia and the Nether­lands are all ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an in­crease in en­rol­ments. How is the fu­ture of stu­dent mo­bil­ity likely to shift?

To un­der­stand the fu­ture trends, let us look back at the re­cent waves of stu­dent mo­bil­ity.

Wave I of international stu­dents has its ori­gin in the in­creas­ing de­mand for high­skilled tal­ent, es­pe­cially in STEM sub­jects at master’s and doc­toral level. Dur­ing this wave, many in­sti­tu­tions were mo­ti­vated to at­tract international stu­dents for re­search and rep­u­ta­tion – and were will­ing and able to pro­vide fund­ing and schol­ar­ships to lure global tal­ent.

How­ever, the events of 11 Septem­ber 2001 changed the dy­nam­ics – and the tight­ened visa re­quire­ments made it more dif­fi­cult for stu­dents to study in the US. Around the same time, the Bologna Process and the Euro­pean Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Area started tak­ing shape to cre­ate more com­pa­ra­ble and co­her­ent sys­tems of higher ed­u­ca­tion to fos­ter stu­dent mo­bil­ity within Europe. Towards the end of Wave I, sev­eral countries in­clud­ing the UK, Aus­tralia, Aus­tria, Canada, France, Ger­many, Italy and Switzer­land gained at the ex­pense of the US.

Wave II has its ori­gins in the global fi­nan­cial re­ces­sion that started in the US. The cas­cad­ing ef­fect of the cri­sis re­sulted in se­vere bud­get cuts in the higher ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor in many countries around the world. This com­pelled in­sti­tu­tions to start look­ing for al­ter­na­tive sources of rev­enue. One of the sources was to re­cruit full fee-pay­ing international stu­dents.

The nar­ra­tive of Wave I of “at­tract­ing global tal­ent” changed to “re­cruit­ing international stu­dents” in Wave II. This time, nei­ther uni­ver­si­ties nor gov­ern­ments in many des­ti­na­tion countries had the re­sources to of­fer fi­nan­cial sup­port to international stu­dents. The growth of China’s mid­dle class pro­vided the much-needed en­rol­ment mo­men­tum to many countries around the world, with the lead­ing English-speak­ing countries in­clud­ing the US and the UK as the most sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fi­cia­ries.

Wave III is shaped by the un­cer­tain­ties trig­gered by a new po­lit­i­cal or­der with na­tion­al­is­tic over­tones. The out­come of the UK’s ref­er­en­dum on mem­ber­ship of the Euro­pean Union and the re­sult of the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion sur­prised many – both pos­i­tively and neg­a­tively.

Anti-im­mi­grant rhetoric and poli­cies trig­gered con­cerns of find­ing post-grad­u­a­tion ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties among many prospec­tive international stu­dents con­sid­er­ing study in the UK and the US. In con­trast, countries such as Canada and Aus­tralia pur­sued poli­cies to en­able path­ways for find­ing work and ca­reer ad­vance­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties.

At the same time, com­pe­ti­tion from English-taught pro­grammes in Asia and con­ti­nen­tal Europe have been gain­ing trac­tion as they con­tinue to im­prove in qual­ity and gain from some stu­dents turn­ing away from the US and the UK.

Higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions that aim to be glob­ally competitive in at­tract­ing international stu­dents in this third wave must pivot to a goal of in­no­vat­ing to at­tract the best-fit international stu­dents and de­liv­er­ing on the prom­ise of value for money.

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