China: from ‘emerging contender’ to ‘serious player’ in cross-border student mobility

Last year we carried a series of reports (see here, here and here) on the global distribution of student mobility. While the US and the UK had the lion’s share of this market, with 22% and 12% respectively, we noted China had made big gains. With 7% of the global market and in 6th place overall, it was an ’emerging contender’ to be taken seriously, with trends suggesting that it was a serious player as a net ‘exporter’ and importer of education services.

So it was with great interest I read today’s Chronicle of Higher Education report by reporter Mara Hvistendahl, on China now being ranked in 5th place (behind the US, UK, France and Germany) as an “importer” of foreign students. See this OECD chart, from its new Education at a Glance 2008 report, to situate this development trend and China’s current position [recall that China is not an OECD member country].

As the Chronicle report notes, this is a far cry from China’s 33 overseas students in 1950.

Given, too, that in 1997 there were only 39,000 foreign students whilst in 2007 there were some 195,000, this 5-fold increase in numbers in 10 years (Chinese Ministry of Education and the China Scholarship Council) represents a staggering achievement and the one that is likely to continue. So, how has China achieved this. According to the Chronicle report:

To attract students, China offers competitive packages, replete with living stipends, health insurance, and, sometimes, travel expenses. In 2007 the China Scholarship Council awarded 10,000 full scholarships — at a cost of 360 million yuan ($52-million) — to international students. By 2010 the council aims to double the number of awards.

Two-fifths of the 2007 grants went to students in Asia. In a separate scholarship program that reflects its global political strategy, China is using its strengths in science and technology to appeal to students in the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia, forming partnerships with governments in those regions to sponsor students in medicine, engineering, and agriculture.

But there are other factors as well pushing China up the ladder as an education destination. China is increasing regarded as a strategic destination by American students and the US government for study abroad. Figures reported by Institute of International Education fact-sheet on student mobility to and from the US show an increase of 38% in US students going to China in just 1 year (2005/2006). This also represents a profound shift in Sino-American educational relations.

In sum, these figures reflect the outcome of an overall strategy by China (perversely aided by the US’s own global trade and diplomacy agenda):

  • to develop a world class higher education system;
  • to internationalize Chinese higher education;
  • to stem the tide of students flowing out of China;
  • to attract half a million students to China by 2020; and
  • to advance Chinese interests through higher education diplomacy.

If realized, this would put China at the top of the exporting nations along with the US. It will also register China as a global higher education player with global impact. Without doubt this will change the geo-politics of global higher education.

Susan Robertson

The Bologna Process in Africa: a case of aspiration, inspiration, or both?

The original Bologna Process architects must surely rub their eyes on occasions, and wonder quite how ‘they’ managed to let a genie ‘so big’ out of a bottle that is more often characterized as a ‘bottleneck of bureaucracy’.

The Bologna Process is not only one of the biggest news stories in higher education in Europe (see our stories here, here and here), but its magic seems to be spreading with tsunamic affect. Bologna is fast becoming a truly global phenomenon. Nations as far afield as Cameroon, China, Australia, Russia and Brazil, are either talking about, or signing on to, a Bologna style ‘restructuring brand’. Last year, the Bologna Follow-up Group released its report on the ‘external dimension’ of the Bologna Process, and whilst wrapped up in ‘euro-speak’ (‘dimension’ being a euphemism for the various modalities of Europe as a political project), it nevertheless makes for very, very, interesting reading.

Of particular interest, then, is this week’s World University News report on the Bologna Process in Africa, on this occasion with a focus on Cameroon. Since 2003 (the Bologna Process began only four years earlier in 1999) a number of francophone African countries have begun the reform of their higher education systems. These changes are regarded as essential, in view of the need for the global harmonization of higher education and increased student mobility.

For many African countries, the Cameroon included, their students study abroad in those countries which were their former colonial masters. As a result, as University World News reports:

…in 2005, the latest year for which figures are available, the number of African students studying in France totalled 125,585, almost half of all students from abroad. Nearly 54,000 of these were from sub-Saharan Africa, of whom the 6,280 Cameroonians represented the second highest contingent, after Senegal.

Around Africa, such as in the Maghreb region (made up of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia), groupings of countries are busy putting the Bologna model into place. With higher-education traditions modeled after the French system, all three former French colonies are currently realigning their higher education systems with the licence, master, doctorat (LMD or 3-5-8) architecture that is now a part of the French higher-education landscape.

These processes have been pushed forward by a series of regional meetings. In July 2007, a conference was convened in the Democratic Republic of Congo to discuss African Universities’ Adaptation to the Bologna Process. This meeting followed two conferences in Dakar, Senegal (July 2005) and El Jadida, Morocco (May 2006). The 2007 conference aimed to discuss ways in which African universities could use lessons learned from the Bologna process to build more cooperative international relationships across four main themes:

  • the decision process that has brought African universities or countries to opt for the Bologna model
  • the direct or indirect effects of the decision to adopt the Bologna model: curriculum reform, quality assurance and accreditation, mobility, recognition and joint degrees, professional master’s/research master’s degrees and doctoral schools
  • the current evolution of the emerging countries’ universities, and their place in globalization
  • the role of international and/or financial organizations in the promotion of the Bologna model.

It is clearly important to ensure articulation between different countries qualifications regimes to ensure ease of mobility across borders.

However, this is not the only reason for advancing a Bologna-inspired restructuring of higher education. It is also being used as a tool to generate new forms of regionalism, a development GlobalHigherEd has been covering in earlier entries (see here and here). The World Education Services, for example, reports that for the three countries of the Maghreb, much of this regional collaboration was undertaken with an eye to developing a ‘Euro-Mediterranean Higher Education and Research Area.’ A founding document for the proposed education area was signed in January 2006 and is known as the Catania Declaration . In addition to Euro-Mediterranean and Maghreb countries, Egypt and Jordan are also signatory to the Declaration.

So, while the advance of the Bologna Process in Europe does have important implications for those countries that continue to have strong ties to Europe’s system of higher education and labour markets, Bologna is also important as it is triggering new pockets and forms of regionalisms. It is in this sense, then, that we might say that Bologna in Africa is both aspirational and inspirational.

Susan Robertson

Freefall in the Australian higher education market?

Today’s report by Geoff Maslen for the University World News (9th December) – on whether the Australia’s A$11 billion a year education export market is facing a potentially catastrophic fall – must have Australian politicians and university managers shaking in their boots. The figures, it seems, are in something of a free-fall….and any spinning out of control is likely to leave a pretty large hole in the economy. As Maslen notes:

Foreign students now contribute $2.4 billion a year to university coffers. Yet the flow of new students arriving in Australia to undertake university courses has plummeted from double digit increases in the early 2000s to low single-digit increases.

In the first years to 2007, the number of overseas students undertaking university award courses on campuses in Australia jumped by more than 50% to hit 175,000 for the first time. But, over that period, annual enrolment growth fell successively from 17% to 12% to 8% and this year it is down to less than 4%.

Maslen goes on to suggest that a major reason contributing to the fall is the change in the visa processes tied to the skilled migration program. Large numbers of students come to Australia from India and China with the express purpose of gaining permanent residency once they have completed their studies. However, it seems that employers have been complaining about the poor levels of English competence amongst these students, making them unsuitable for much more than casual work. As a result, students who apply to stay on will face stricter tests of their English language competence following completion of their studies and as part of their application for permanent residence.

Maslen may well be right here. However, GlobalHigherEd can’t help but think that this isn’t  the major reason, especially as it is referring to students applying to stay on once they have completed studies, rather than those who are planning to come in the first place and who may at this point feel a lot more confident about their ability to learn and use English.

What surely must also be an important factor in this mix is the growing levels of competitiveness from those who were once smaller players in the education export business – countries like France and Germany – for example, who are now regarded as potentially desirable destinations given a move toward English language instruction at the graduate level and with lower fees and moderate living costs and who are wooing Chinese students.

The USA, too, has had time to reflect on its own position, and is now reporting an increase in overseas student numbers following the post Sept 11 period when things were definitely heading in the wrong direction. US higher education institutions have invested in people and new processes in an attempt to turn around the decline in numbers and it seems that, at least for some institutions, this is paying off.

Finally, relative currency exchange trends are clearly not moving in Australia’s favour in comparison to the country’s competitors, especially the US.

What is clear is that, once in the game, there is absolutely no room for complacency – or the outcomes are potentially catastrophic, not only for the economy but for the institutions most directly affected.

Susan Robertson

Battling for market share 2: the ‘Middle Powers’ and international student mobility

Yesterday GlobalHigherEd ran the first of 4 in-depth reports on battle for market share of higher education – on the Major Players. Our reports draw from a major study released this week by the Observatory of Borderless Higher Education (OBHE) on International Student Mobility: Patterns and Trends. The Observatory report identifies four categories: (1) the Major Players; (2) the Middle Powers; (3) the Emerging Destinations, and (4) the Emerging Contenders.

Today we look at the ‘Middle Powers’.

The Middle Players are Germany and France who share, with 20% of the total amount of all foreign students (compared with the Major players who have 45%). In contrast to the Major Players who attract students from all over the world, the Middle Players attract students from regional European countries, or those where there are strong cultural and historical ties – for instance in the case of France – Morocco, Algeria and Senegal.

Sciences Po, Paris, France

Sciences Po, Paris, FranceHowever, both Germany and France have also managed to significantly increase their numbers of students from China – one of the two major target destinations for recruiting – by around 500% over the past 8-10 years.

In 1997, Germany recruited 4980 students – by 2006 they had recruited 26,390. Similarly, France recruited a mere 1,374 students from China in 1999 – by 2005 its numbers had increased to 15,963. Compare this trend with the US – who in 1997 recruited 42,503 – increasing to only 62,583 in 2006. Only Australia and the UK have figures close to those of France and Germany in relation to an expanding share of the Chinese market. The OBHE also notes that these two Middle Powers have failed to target India, making them less strategic in their approach to the market.

However, the advantage that these Middle Powers have, at least for the moment, is their value for money (low fees and affordable living costs) and the move to teaching in English (see our report last week). The question is, how long that advantage might last? The European Commission is pressing its Member States to consider imposing or increasing student fees in order to augment flagging higher education budgets.

Given the above developments, GlobalHigherEd sees a tension emerging between (i) attracting talent for the knowledge economy (stream lined visa systems for retention, R&D infrastructures etc) , (ii) being an attractive destination for higher education (aka low fees, low living costs, high quality product), and (iii) getting a higher return to the institution and the economy by way of fees.

The question for these Middle Powers is how to become major global players, and what might be the costs and benefits in doing so.

Source: OBHE (2007) International Student Mobility: Patterns and Trends.

Susan Robertson