US student mobility: cultural enrichment and national security

Record numbers of US students are studying abroad. The Institute of International Education‘s latest report, Open Doors 2007 (IIE), provides details of the 150% increase in US student mobility over the last ten years with an 8.5% rise in 2005-2006. Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education have detailed coverage of the findings.

Looking below the headline figures a number of features become clear. As the US Department of State website highlights, most students take part in programs of eight weeks or less, just over a third stay for an entire semester and only 5.5% are away for a year or more. Europe is the most popular destination but there have been big jumps in numbers going to Latin America (particularly Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Costa Rica and Ecuador), Asia (in China, India, South Korea, Vietnam and Hong Kong numbers have seen large increases), Africa (Tanzania saw a 19% increase ). In the Middle East students have been increasingly mobile into Israel and Jordan.

Looking at the numbers and destinations it becomes hard not to see a pattern emerging. US students are being funded through IIE administered programs into countries with particular affinities with the US. In addition, one new source of funding is the US Department of State’s National Security Language Initiative program which targets mobility for learning Arabic, Chinese, Hindi and Persian and other ‘critically’ needed foreign languages.

The rhetoric which surrounds the celebration of these trends is familiar. So Condoleeza Rice says that mobility:

Expands young people’s opportunities, enriches their lives, and demonstrates our respect for other cultures

While Under Secretary of State Karen Hughes is especially proud of IIE programs which:

By reaching out to students of more modest means, has produced truly remarkable gains in the numbers of US citizens from minority communities who can now aspire to the life-changing experience of study abroad.

If we draw together a number of features of US student mobility patterns we can start to ask some important questions about the objectives which are served by mobility. The top three majors of US students studying abroad are the social sciences, business and management, and humanities, so why are math, science and technology majors nowhere near as mobile.? The majority of students follow well worn paths to countries with cultural, economic and political affinities with the US but is there a growing trend towards mobility into countries with developing importance for US interests? Students still tend to be mobile for very short periods of time; how does the dynamic of State Department funding for critical language (and cultural) understanding interact with the necessarily brief exposure of less than eight weeks?

With hard power and soft power increasingly on the march, it seems that we need to keep on thinking about what is at stake when we talk about student mobility. Mobility is always from somewhere to somewhere and for some purpose. US student mobility patterns suggest that we need to keep looking at the cultural and political in addition to the economic. There is a link between cultural enrichment and national security and EU policy in Central Asia suggests it is a link which is not only made in the US.

Peter D. Jones

Brainpower famine in Eastern Europe: food for thought

lisboncouncilreport.jpgThe Brussels based think-tank, The Lisbon Council, sees trouble ahead for the countries of both Western and Eastern Europe. The Eastern European low-wage, low-tax, FDI-driven growth rates of today, accelerated by membership of the EU, are not going to last. A combination of low-birth rates and increasing brain drain will combine to fix their economic trajectories at well below the EU average with no prospect of improvement. And that is a problem for Western Europe too: it has been the dynamism of the East which has given a fillip to the West.

In its just issued report, The European Human Capital Index: The Challenge of Central and Eastern Europe, the Lisbon Council claims:

There is a very real risk that in coming decades Central and Eastern Europe could become a sparsely-populated area with a declining workforce that will have to shoulder the burden of a population set to experience unprecedented levels of aging and decline. At stake is nothing less than the long-term sustainability of these remarkable countries, which have added so much to Europe’s history, economy and diversity.

Now, if we look beyond the doom-laden futurology and risk of future collapse which seems to be so much a part of these calls for action, we can begin to see the contradictions in the analysis and the prescriptions. The EU economy is driven by processes of centralization and concentration and we can see this in the movements of knowledge, technology and capital. Universities are heavily implicated in this and the mobility of students and the highly skilled is the brain drain which is going to accelerate the emptying of the East. The extension of service and production commodity chains into the East and the region’s growth as a consumer market has gone hand in hand with their low tax, flexible labor laws and low state spending. In short the growth model is predicated on the very things which the Human Capital Index measures as being lacking.

The Lisbon Council solutions – reformed universities, on the job skills training, investment in knowledge, skills and innovation – require a shift in the growth model and the question is, how to achieve that within the context of macro and micro economic orthodoxy, the EU promotion of mobility and double-think about brain drain. At the time of the formation of the EU single market there was a response – the EU as a whole had to invest in the conditions for more and better jobs and a geographical spread so that capital, technology and knowledge are shifted away from concentration and centralization. The problems and solutions were posed in those terms which of course requires an increased European tax base and a commitment to significantly greater regional re-distribution and planning.

The challenges have always been clear and the solutions filled with all sorts of dilemmas which don’t even get a mention from the Lisbon Council. Human capital mantras suggest that the governments in Eastern Europe need to improve the supply of human capital, invest more in formal education, create their entrepreneurial universities and attract migrant (cheap) labor from the potentially massive new pool of Turkey etc. And so move themselves onto a different growth path. Perhaps.

One thing that is increasingly clear, is that the Economics of Education and the Human Capital theorists, and this report comes straight out of that stable, can offer descriptions based on such measures as its Human Capital Index, but its policy relevance is restricted and amounts to the same old same old. Quite how societies approaching the sorts of collapse envisaged in the report would react and what shibboleths of neo-liberal human capital development models would then be questioned seems to be beyond their remit. A pity.

Peter Jones

Mexican university now turns to the US for higher education students

Much of the mapping and analysis of transnational student mobility in higher education tends to focus on ‘south’ to the ‘north’ movements. However, recently GlobalHigherEd has been profiling some very interesting south-south movements, for instance with a highly entrepreneurial Malaysian university now establishing itself in Botswana.Today the Chronicle of Higher Education reported on another interesting reversal – this time with a large Mexican university now seeking students in the US and Canada:

Spotting a ripe market and a growing Hispanic population, the National Autonomous University of Mexico is steadily strengthening its foothold in the United States and Canada-one of the first inroads northward by a Latin American university.

While the National Autonomous University of Mexico (National Autonomous University of Mexico) has always had some presence in the US however this has tended to be directed to cultural activities.unam2.jpg

Now, however UNAM sees that the Hispanic population in the USA might benefit those Mexicans and Latinas who have left their home countries and want to continue studying or complete a degree – in the USA or in Canada.

The Chronicle reports that the biggest campus is in San Antonio – in a two story building donated by the Texas city government. In exchange, UNAM professors teach the municipal employees Spanish and help with translation services. Other programs are run in Chicago and Quebec.

These developments suggest the benefits might work in several directions; for students of Hispanic decent, for local governments, and also for those wanting to learn Spanish. They also bring to light a range of new players into the field of transnational education, though the motivations of the students and the outcomes of various initiatives may well be quite divergent.

However they also highlight the fact that a comparative advantage in transnational higher education may not always be English, or cost of living, or indeed student fees (as we have previously reported), but the possibilities of exploiting ethnic agglomeration in a transnational knowledge space.

Susan Robertson

EU Blue Cards: not a blank cheque for migrant labour – says Barroso

berlin1.jpgThe global competition for skilled labor looks like getting a new dimension – the EU is planning to issue “blue cards” to allow highly skilled non-Europeans to work in the EU. On Tuesday 23 October José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, announced plans to harmonize admission procedures for highly qualified workers. As President Barroso put it:

With the EU Blue Card we send a clear signal: Highly skilled people from all over the world are welcome in the European Union. Let me be clear: I am not announcing today that we are opening the doors to 20 million high-skilled workers! The Blue Card is not a “blank cheque”. It is not a right to admission, but a demand-driven approach and a common European procedure.

The Blue Card will also mean increased mobility for high-skilled immigrants and their families inside the EU.

Member States will have broad flexibility to determine their labour market needs and decide on the number of high-skilled workers they would like to welcome.

With regard to developing countries we are very much aware of the need to avoid negative “brain drain” effects. Therefore, the proposal promotes ethical recruitment standards to limit – if not ban – active recruitment by Member States in developing countries in some sensitive sectors. It also contains measures to facilitate so-called “circular migration”. Europe stands ready to cooperate with developing countries in this area.

Further details are also available in this press release, with media and blog coverage available via these pre-programmed Google searches. As noted the proposed scheme would have a common single application procedure across the 27 Member States and a common set of rights for non-EU nationals including the right to stay for two years and move within the EU to another Member State for an extension of one more year.

The urgency of the introduction of the blue card is framed in terms of competition with the US/Canada/Australia – the US alone attracts more than half of all skilled labor while only 5 per cent currently comes to the EU. This explanation needs to be seen in relation to two issues which the GlobalHigherEd blog has been following: the competition to attract and retain researchers and the current overproduction of Maths, Science and Technology graduates. Can the attractiveness of the EU as a whole compete with the pull of R&D/Industrial capacity in the US and the logic of English as the global language? Related to this obviously is the recent enlargement to 27 Member States where there are ongoing issues around the mobility of labor within the EU? We will continue to look beneath the claims of policy initiatives to see the underlying contradictions in approaches. The ongoing question of the construction of a common European labor market and boosting the attractiveness of EU higher ed institutions may be at least as important here as the supposed skilled labor shortages.

Futurology demographics seem to be at the heart of the explanation of the need to intensify the recruitment of non-EU labour – according to the Commission the EU will have a shortage of 20 million workers in the next 20 years, with one third of the EU population over the age of 65. Interestingly though, there is no specification of the kinds of skill shortages that far down the line – the current concern is that the EU currently receives 85 % of global unskilled labour.

Barroso and the Commission continue to try to handle the contradictions of EU brain attractiveness strategies by the preferred model of:

  • fixed term contracts;
  • limitations on recruitment from developing countries in sensitive sectors; and,
  • the potentially highly tendentious notion of ‘circular migration’.

High skilled labour is effectively on a perpetual carousel of entry to and exit from the labour market with equal rights while in the EU which get lost at the point of departure from the EU zone only to reappear on re-entry, perhaps?

According to Reuters the successful applicants for a blue card would only need to be paid twice the minimum wage in the employing Member State – and this requirement would be lifted if the applicant were to be a graduate from an EU higher education institution. Two things are of interest here then – the blue card could be a way to retain anyone with a higher education qualification and there are implications for the continuing downward pressure on wage rates for the university educated. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out in relation to the attractiveness of EU universities if a blue card is the implied pay-off for successful graduation.

Peter D. Jones

Globalizing universities: profiles and strategies (with a Duke example)

Over the course of the next year we will be developing some profiles of select institutions that are playing a key role in globalizing higher education systems via their transnational governance functions and objectives (e.g., the OECD), or via their actions (e.g., individual universities). Our entry about NYU two days ago is part of this focus, as is the 9 October Global Public University forum that we helped to organize. We will also be asking a range of institutions, including universities and consortia, to develop some self-profiles so as to let them speak in their own voices versus us speaking on their behalf. We will ensure that their representations are as analytical as possible, and that there is some diversity in that nature of the types of institutions that will be profiled. Switzerland’s Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) is currently developing the first self-profile that we will post. Those of you interested in this theme should also keep track of the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s US-focused Global Campus initiative, as well as select Institute of International Education (IIE) publications.

The issue of how universities globalize is a key one to take account of when examining the construction of global knowledge/spaces. To be sure there are broader structural forces that are at work, forces including economic restructuring, ideological change that is leading to regulatory reform, social transformations, and technological change. But the actions of individual universities, firms, and organizations, mediated by the state, collectively helps to constitute these broader structural forces. And each of these individual actors, guided by people and personalities, has a distinctive take on the globalization process. As we noted, NYU is now fully pursuing the Network model with its new campus in Abu Dhabi. Duke University is another institution with a variety of globalizing activities underway. The President of Duke University (Richard H. Brodhead) gave an illuminating speech (to Duke faculty) about this topic yesterday, and it is worth reading.


Duke is one of the universities that, through its actions (e.g., a joint Duke-National University of Singapore Graduate Medical School; see their new building to the left), is reaching out across global space, and concurrently enabling Singapore to pursue its emerging ‘global schoolhouse’ development framework. One element of the speech is particularly worth highlighting: how a university moves from an assortment of intra-university unit-led global initiatives, to ensuring that these actions help to achieve collective university wide goals, while at the same time the university better (and more efficiently) supports the myriad of activities that are taking place within said units, while ensuring that a globally recognized identity is constructed. Duke is, of course, a global anomaly; a very well-resourced private (non-profit) institution. And the context for the origin of the speech is unclear. However, there are still insights to be acquired by assessing how and why a globally active university like Duke does what it does. We’ll close off with a relatively lengthy quote here from Duke’s President:

Deluged by my examples, you might by now be saying: It’s amazing, I grant you! So isn’t Duke already international enough? I would reply as follows. I take delight in the vision and activity Duke has displayed to date. I also recognize our obligation not just to keep adding to our list of programs, but to work with what we have to give it depth and substance. (In American universities, the list of showy memoranda of understanding with international partners is far longer than the list of substantive relationships that have followed.) I also recognize that Duke’s international development entails tradeoffs with other, equally legitimate university goals, choices that need to be clearly envisioned and intelligently made. But I also believe there is important further work to do to take us to the next level of development as a global university.

One step is very obvious. I would never advocate central control and direction of Duke’s international efforts: the interest, commitment and inventiveness of actual individuals is the absolute precondition for these programs’ success. But we do need more centralized information about our ventures. We have programs exploring possible partnerships in countries (even in cities) where Duke already has an institutional presence that our new Duke ambassadors often know nothing about. Before we go forward, it would help to be able to know what’s already going on.

Second, as our international activities become more numerous and complex, we need to build the infrastructure to support them. Every Duke presence around the globe brings us new contacts, new visibility, new educational opportunity—but also new challenges of financial management, legal arrangement, and liability. It is inefficient at best, and dangerous at worst, for us to expect all our separate units to be able to manage these difficulties on their own. Going forward, they will require a higher level of institutional attention and a stronger system of institutional support.

There are other infrastructural issues as well. The way our local budgets are set up does not make it easy for different schools and departments to team up to envision new international ventures. I also wonder whether our faculty appointments system is structured to greatest advantage for an increasingly globalized intellectual world. At a dinner hosted by the provost this summer, the deans fell into speculation on the idea of an “international professor”—a person who would spend significant time here with the understanding that they would regularly spend time elsewhere, building bridges with a Duke connection. Let me not fail to mention that to continue to attract top student talent, Duke must increase international student financial aid.

Third, and this is my main point, we need our international efforts to be more concerted and strategic. Most of our projects to date have arisen through entrepreneurial activity by separate units. This is the key source of institutional creativity, and it will remain so. But the time comes to ask if these often-vibrant parts could not add up to a more coherent whole, a concerted activity that would advance this whole institution’s mission, with benefits for each part. More than institutional efficiency is at stake. This is a question of how we render the distinctive service this university could provide and how we make Duke known around the world.

Kris Olds