Trouble ahead? US Council of Graduate Schools survey reports overseas student applications slow to 3%

A US Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) survey out this week paints a potentially worrying picture for all countries dependent on income generated by transborder higher education, whether because of fees income, or as a result of the brain-power transnational students contribute to R&D in the host economy. As we know, many graduate students, particularly from India and China, have tended to stay on in their host country once completing their graduate studies, making an important contribution to the host country’s economic productivity. However, what happens if student numbers decline?

According to this 2008 CGS survey, the number of foreign students applying to American graduate schools increased by only 3 per cent from 2007 to 2008, following growth of 9 per cent last year and 12 per cent in 2006. This is despite considerable efforts over the past couple of years in reviewing the visa restrictions imposed after 9/11. This had not only discouraged potential applicants, but very lengthy processing times created a disincentive to potential applicants. Other efforts to turn around the decline in students coming to the US included more funding for international students and attention to recruitment. What, then, is going on? Is this evidence of trouble ahead? Let’s, first, look at the pattern reported in the CGS 2008 Survey.

While the US still has the lion’s share of the global graduate market (65% of graduate students studying abroad study in the US), the CGS report (see table below) shows that while there was strong growth – 12 per cent – in applications from both China and the Middle East, these have to be compared to gains of 19 per cent and 17 per cent last year, respectively. There was no growth in applications from India after a 12 per cent increase last year. China and India are the two countries that annually send the most graduate students to the US.

In terms of fields of study, applications to sciences and engineering – fields considered critical to maintaining US economic competitiveness – are experiencing sharply decelerating rates of growth.

With fewer international applicants in 2008 compared to 2003 to the US, and the total number of international applications down by 16 per cent since that year, policymakers and institutions directly affected must be wondering what more they need to do avoid major trouble ahead. Have current efforts been insufficient? Or, do these developments signal other currents that are not directly linked to the effects of 9/11?

In an interview published by the Financial Times on April 10th, 2008, Bill Russel, Dean of the Graduate School at Princeton University, observed:

…many of the nations that typically send a large number of students to US graduate schools – namely China, India, and countries in the Middle East – are rapidly building their own PhD programmes, and that career opportunities in those countries have also expanded. “There are a lot of different changes that are taking place,” he said. “It’s hard to say what the world is going to look like ten years down the road”

GlobalHigherEd has been tracking these developments in the Middle East, Asia and also Europe. As the idea of building knowledge-based economies becomes more and more embedded in government policies, as higher education institutions compete to become world class, as new models for constructing competitive higher education/industry linkages are explored, as the strategies to exploit or return the knowledge and skills of the diasporas are mobilized, and higher education becomes part of the global services market, old linkages will not be sufficient to retain a position as a preferred destination. Instead, governments and institutions will need to review their strategies and build infrastructures that enable them to monitor and advance their interests if they want to be part of the race.

Susan Robertson

Engaging globally through joint and dual degrees: the graduate experience

carlin.jpgEditor’s note: this guest entry has been kindly produced by Diana B. Carlin, Dean-in-Residence and Director of International Outreach, Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) and former Dean of the Graduate School and International Programs, University of Kansas from 2000-2007. At Kansas she oversaw over 100 graduate programs on three campuses and the Offices of International Programs, Study Abroad, Applied English, and International Student and Scholar Services. During her tenure, Kansas developed joint and dual graduate degrees in France and Korea. She reported on trends in joint/dual degree development at an international conference (the “Strategic Leaders Global Summit on Graduate Education“) co-hosted by CGS and the Province of Alberta, Canada in August 2007.

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Other postings on GlobalHigherEd (see ‘Engaging globally through joint and double degree programmes: a view from Singapore’ and ‘Engaging globally through dual degree programs: SUNY in Turkey’) have presented model joint/dual degree programs at the undergraduate level. Such degrees are gaining in popularity for graduate students as well (as are joint/dual graduate-level certificate programs). In fact, collaborative degrees have become one of the most popular session topics at meetings of the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) and other gatherings of graduate education leaders. Graduate school deans are discovering increased interest among faculty and administrators to both expand their institution’s international opportunities for domestic graduate students and attract international students through collaborative degrees. Additionally, as international research collaborations become more common, future faculty and non-faculty researchers can begin developing overseas connections. Students from all participating institutions also benefit from exposure to world-class facilities and faculty.

The federal government has also been encouraging development of collaborative degrees. Funding agencies’ grant programs such as NSF’s IGERT (Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship) and PIRE (Partnerships for International Research and Education), and Atlantis/FIPSE (a joint European-US program) in the Department of Education.

While graduate joint/dual degree programs share many of the same advantages and structures, and must consider many of the same steps in development, as undergraduate degree programs, there are also some unique issues that require consideration and collaboration among graduate programs, the graduate school, and international offices.

cgscover.jpgBefore considering the specific issues related to graduate-level dual and joint degree programs, readers might first be interested in knowing the extent to which current international collaborations exist and what the prospects are for future growth.

A CGS survey of graduate deans last summer found that 29% of the responding institutions had some type of collaborative degree or certificate arrangement with an international university. Respondents represented a high percentage of the U.S. universities that have the largest international student enrollment: nine of the ten institutions with the highest international enrollments responded, as did 84% of the largest 25. Nearly 56% of both the largest ten and the largest 50 institutions had at least one degree program, compared with only 22% of the institutions below the top 50. The top 50 institutions enroll approximately 41% of all international students. Thus, the results provide a relatively accurate trend among universities with high levels of international engagement.

cgstable5.jpgEuropean and Chinese universities headed the list of partners for master’s degree programs, with 39% and 24% of the collaborations respectively, while doctoral programs were primarily in Europe. Business degrees constituted the most popular field for master’s degrees with 44% of respondents reporting such collaborations; engineering was next with 35% of respondents. At the doctoral level engineering and physical science degrees were reported by 13% of the respondents. [The remaining responses can be found in the survey of graduate deans report.]

And it is clear that international collaborative degree programs are growing: when asked if the institutions had plans for new joint/dual degrees within the next two years, 24% answered affirmatively overall, and the percentages were even higher among the largest schools.

Now onto the unique issues alluded to above. The growing popularity of, and planned increases in, joint/dual degrees belies a set of concerns that faculty, graduate deans, and other administrators have. It is agreed that students, especially in business, engineering, and the sciences, will conduct their life’s work on a global stage and need preparation to do so. But it is also recognized that a program’s quality assurance and plans for long-term sustainability have to be considered during the initial planning stages.

Accreditation issues, especially for some professional degrees, become a factor as well (undergraduate programs in professional schools share some of these concerns). Collaborative program administrators have to learn how “memoranda of understanding” are prepared and how exchange agreements are structured. International offices have to become familiar with the aspects of a new graduate degree and its approval might differ from the institution’s practices for undergraduate programs.

The remainder of this posting presents some of the lessons learned by members of the graduate community who have worked through establishing joint and dual degrees.

The consensus of most graduate deans is that the best programs are those established with partner institutions that have existing relationships with the U.S. university or are familiar through long-term research collaborations among a group of faculty. Most agree that it is unwise to develop a degree program around the research interests of a single faculty member. In addition to regular program reviews, graduate degree collaborations would benefit from a review after two or three years and that the programs should have some type of “sunset” clause that the program is to be terminated if it does not produce the desired level of collaboration.

From my experience as a dean and from that of others, it is important to remember that no matter how long it takes to develop a program and how well it is conceived, there will always be issues that were overlooked and require negotiation or renegotiation. Something as simple as semester start and end dates can create problems, not to mention more difficult issues related to research projects and joint supervision of a thesis or dissertation. U.S. deans have discovered that it often takes scholarship funding to kick off a new program and to get the first cohort interested. They have also found that they often need to highlight successful existing programs to stakeholders in the approval process in order to allay concerns that could end a prospective alliance. Graduate degree programs often require a year just to work through various levels of approval; thus, program proponents need to be prepared to not promise anything until all of the agreements or memoranda of understanding are completed and signed.

Through sharing experiences at conferences, on list serves, and on blogs such as this, universities initiating their first collaborative graduate degree program can reduce the number of problems by knowing what to expect at the outset. The need for graduates who have collaborated with international partners or have spent some part of their careers outside the United States—regardless of what that career is—will only grow. As a result, study abroad is likely to grow at the graduate level and produce long-term relationships that will benefit students, the institutions, as well as society worldwide.

Diana Carlin