Going Global? A Guide to the Twists and Turns of Global Mobility in Higher Education

A review essay of Higher Education on the Move: New Developments in Global Mobility (IIE Books, 2009)

The face of international education has changed significantly since the medieval days of the wandering scholar or even the days of the backpacking student of the twentieth century. What was once primarily a means for cultural understanding and collaboration has become a means to economic and political gain. Higher education leaders and policymakers are now seeing global mobility in economic and political terms. For example, in 2007, the Canadian Bureau for International Education, the Association for Canadian Community Colleges, the Association for Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), and the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters issued a joint statement to urge the government of Canada to invest more in international education for Canadian students. The government responded by offering the Michael Smith Study Abroad Supplement for recipients of the Canada Graduate Scholarship and the Vanier scholarship to attract international students to master’s and doctoral programs in Canada. Part of Industry Canada’s strategy for science and technology (S&T), Mobilizing Canada’s Science and Technology Advantage, is to attract international talent, retain Canada’s best talent, and have access to international talent through international partnerships. International education is now an important component of the S&T strategy to increase Canada’s economic prosperity. Moving towards economic, rather than cultural, rationales for academic mobility offers many new developments in global mobility that need careful attention.

The book Higher Education on the Move: New Developments in Global Mobility by the Institute of International Education (IIE) and the American Institute for Foreign Study, and edited by Rajika Bhandari and Shepherd Laughlin can help inform discussions at colleges and universities about how to navigate new developments in international education. The book introduces several issues related to international education, specifically the movement of students and scholars at global, regional, national, and institutional levels. Although the book seems directed towards American higher education institutions, Canadian institutional leaders and policymakers can learn a lot from this compilation of articles.

Overall, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in learning more about global academic mobility. Those who will benefit the most from this book are university leaders, policymakers, quality assurance and academic professionals, and researchers who need to deepen their understanding of the policies and practices of global mobility in OECD countries. All the articles are well referenced, cite scholars from across the globe (most of the cited research is from the U.S., Europe, and Australia), and use sound empirical evidence for each issue presented. There are eight chapters, each examining an aspect of global academic mobility.

In the first article, “Global student mobility: moving towards brain exchange,” Rajika Bhandari and Peggy Blumenthal of the IIE discuss brain exchange. Rather than the notion of brain drain for developing countries and brain gain for the industrialized countries, the authors see a “brain exchange” beginning to emerge. They cite several examples of initiatives in developing countries that are attracting or keeping students within their borders.

This chapter highlights a few challenges and opportunities that Canadian higher education faces. The challenges include the small percentage of outbound students, the growing global competition for international students, and the issues with the “degree gap,” i.e. the degrees produced and the degrees needed in the labour force. The opportunities for Canadian higher education include transnational education such as branch campuses and “virtual mobility” programs and the market for students in countries that are not capable of meeting the college-aged cohort’s higher education needs. The article gives several examples of higher education policy that developed and developing countries are implementing that are worth consideration for Canadian institutions.

In the second article, “GATS and transnational mobility in higher education,” N. V. Varghese of the Institute for International Education Planning at UNESCO maps out how funding for higher education in developing countries has shifted from aid to trade. The General Agreement on the Trade of Services (GATS) is a multilateral trade agreement of the World Trade Organization . One of the services that signatories can agree to open for free trade is higher education. This chapter serves as a primer for understanding issues in transnational mobility as it relates to institutions, teachers, and students in the context of the GATS.

Varghese suggests that the GATS may impose an unbalanced competition between institutions from developing and developed countries. The attraction of fee-paying international students in private institutions may leave public institutions as the “reserve for the poor,” which could weaken national institutions. Varghese’s final argument is that trade in higher education has winners and losers. It is important to identify who the winners and losers are so that regulatory frameworks can help minimize the gap between the two. Canada has not agreed to trade higher education as part of GATS; however, the issues Varghese analyses should provide Canadian policymakers and institutional leaders a roadmap when embarking on transnational educational arrangements.

In the third article, “Internationalizing the academy: The impact of scholar mobility,” Sabine O’Hara from the Council for International Exchange of Scholars picks many interesting data to illustrate the multi-directionality of scholar mobility and its impact on the academy. O’Hara identifies characteristics of scholar mobility that indicate changing trends such as: 1) internet capacity is as a way to increase access to research from remote locations; 2) universities are no longer the only knowledge production sites; 3) more countries are developing capacity for research; 4) global issues require global scholar cooperation; and 5) knowledge networks are becoming more multinational and multidisciplinary. While the American focus of the chapter and the scattered data provided may seem like a stretch to find correlations to the Canadian context, O’Hara’s attempt to advocate for greater scholar mobility may help Canadian institutions understand the issues surrounding scholar mobility better. Since there is no data on the mobility of Canadian scholars, it will be difficult to pinpoint if the American and Canadian experiences of scholars are similar.

In the fourth article, “Increasing Europe’s attractiveness for international students: What can we learn from the Bologna Process?” Bernd Wächter portrays the driving forces behind the Bologna Process. He makes a strong case that the empirical data necessary to measure the progress of mobility expectations from the original focus of the Bologna Process is still lacking. After showing evidence of intra-European mobility, and “into-Europe” mobility, it is clear that it is too early to measure the effectiveness of Bologna process in increasing student mobility both within and into Europe.

The federal nature of the higher education systems of Canada offers similar units of analysis for comparison of student mobility both within Canada and into Canada. Canadian higher education policy makers could learn from the Bologna process in terms of how to increase student mobility within the country and outside of it. Canadian higher education policymakers could consider the Bologna Process as a tool for guiding Canadian mobility.

In the fifth article, “Joint and dual degree programs: New ventures in academic mobility,” Roberta Maierhofer and Ulla Kriebernegg focus on the experiences of the University of Graz in implementing joint and dual degree programs. Joint and dual degree programs are programs where two or more universities agree to offer either one (joint) degree, or two (dual) degrees based on the completion of jointly agreed-upon degree requirements. These types of programs encourage greater mobility of students and faculty based on an established program that reduces the red tape of short-term student exchange. They provide a helpful guideline for initiating dual and joint degree programs published by the European University Association. In the lessons learned, Maierhofer and Kriebernegg recognize the need for both top-down and bottom-up support in order to sustain the program.

The experience of the University of Graz offers the context for why and how European universities are moving to dual and joint degree programs, which may be instructive for Canadian institutions who are considering similar types of international activities. Canadian institutional leaders may be able to glean lessons from Graz’s example. This article should be read with caution, however, because it does not critically evaluate the ethical issues of offering dual degrees, such as Knight’s concern in the last chapter that dual degrees may be a form of double-counting.

In the sixth article, “Higher education rankings and the global ‘battle for talent’,” Ellen Hazelkorn of the Dublin Institute of Technology describes how international rankings are changing the way universities in OECD countries attract the best students. The four world ranking systems that have emerged since 2003 carry different meaning to different students. Private higher education institutions are in a better position to create “image-enhancing” face lifts that may help to boost rankings, or to “purchase talent” through merit-based scholarship programs. Hazelkorn concludes that rankings have become a mark of quality for students and parents. She believes increased global competition for students will likely “…put a cap on the extent to which countries use international students as financial fodder—and put more power into the hands of students.”

Canadian institutions and national policymakers can learn from Hazelkorn how to approach the ups and downs in student recruitment that international rankings are creating. She offers several policy sources and insights into how international rankings are changing higher education policy. Although her analysis assumes that top talent only comes from industrialized countries with shrinking populations, she presents a strong case for why international rankings should be carefully monitored.

In the seventh article, “Global competitiveness in science and technology and the role of mobility,” Titus Galama and James Hosek of the RAND Corporation discuss the global competitiveness of S&T research to understand how the U.S. can maintain its comparative advantage. The authors argue that the global competition for science and engineering workers will likely intensify based on demographic data of the college-aged population. Galama and Hosek conclude that skilled foreign S&T workers are critical to maintain the U.S. comparative advantage, and suggest that policymakers should not restrict the number of visas given to skilled workers. Although there are uncertainties with increases in S&T research and development, increases in global S&T spending will benefit both industrialized and developing countries as long as the global mobility of S&T workers continues.

As mentioned previously, Canada’s competitive advantage is heavily dependent on the S&T strategy. Duplicating Galama and Hosek’s study in the Canadian context might be very interesting as it could identify to what extent foreign S&T workers are critical to Canada’s comparative advantage. The OECD has produced similar studies that contribute to this discussion of mobility of skilled workers in Canada, one worth noting is by Micheal Bordt.

In the final article, “New developments and unintended consequences: Whither thou goest, internationalization?”, Jane Knight explains how recent developments and initiatives in higher education have created confusion about the definition of internationalization. In education policymaking, Knight asserts it is important to take a neutral definition of internationalization so that it can be applicable to various countries’ cultures, and education systems. The objectivity of the term allows the phenomenon of internationalization to be examined based on a variety of “purposes and outcomes, depending on the actor or stakeholder.”

Knight recognizes new developments related to internationalization, such as “brain train,” quality assurance of cross-border higher education, the increased commercialization and internationalization of accreditation, and double and joint degrees. Some of the unintended consequences of internationalization include: the for-profit nature of activities that have commodifying and commercializing effects; the debates regarding the homogenizing impact of political and economic arrangements; the use of world rankings on institutional policy decisions; the impact of the knowledge economy on higher education, such as “education cities” and regional educational hubs; and the use of higher education to increase the comparative advantage of countries and regions. She concludes that “it is imperative that the international, intercultural, and global dimensions of higher education continue to be proactive, responsive, and innovative while keeping a watch on unanticipated implications.” Thus, she aptly sums up the importance and motivation for this book.

As the world becomes more interconnected, scholars and researchers will be in greater demand to cross national borders in order to solve global issues such as poverty, environmental degradation, and terrorism. As higher education becomes increasingly global there will be twists and turns that require careful navigation to ensure that higher education continues to serve the greater good of society. Canadian policymakers and institutional leaders will find that this book can provide examples of how to steer this process.

Meggan Madden is a doctoral student in the higher education program at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto and a researcher at the Comparative, International, and Development Education Centre.