Wednesday, 19 December 2012

International Education the Australian Way

Guest blog by Dorothy Davis and Bruce Mackintosh

While the UK, Europe and the US have been the traditional destinations for students from less developed countries, in the last quarter century Australia has become the preferred destination for many, with the third highest number of international students in the English-speaking world.  Despite concerns about massification, commercialisation and the possible consequent decline in standards, it has achieved this position through a combination of smart marketing, high educational standards and a reputation for a safe and welcoming environment for students.

A new book “Making a Difference – Australian International Education” which we have edited and is published by the UNSW Press, reveals all of the history, process and outcomes of the highly successful Australian approach.  It begins with the multiple benefits of international education to students, institutions and communities, and concludes with a look to the horizon of 2025, including the influence of the growth in open/learning/distance education, now heightened by the development of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

It includes a detailed account of the history of international education in Australia, from the enrolment of private international students in the early part of the 19th century, through the significant Colombo Plan scholarship scheme of the 50s and 60s; this cemented the place of Australia in educating the brightest students from Asia and laid the foundations for the expanded, “aid through trade”, phase of international education after the Australian Government moved to allow institutions to enroll full-fee paying students as is done in the UK.  It critically analyses the role of government throughout the century or so of international student enrolments, including the vexatious issues of visas, migration and work rights.  The Australian way of marketing is described for all to see, and the role of private-public partnerships in international education is described using the highly successful Navitas, Australian based but now globally active. 

The supporting roles of off-shore programs, English language schools, English language testing, student welfare organisations, community initiatives, professionalisation and research are all covered in detail.  And the student outcomes are not overlooked with their stories interspersed throughout the book.  There is a tribute to Tony Adams, one of the most important figures in the 25 years of the development of the fee-paying program.  Fittingly the profits from sales of this book will go to the Tony Adams Fund to support professional development, research and student mobility.

This is a book for anyone who wants to understand how Australian institutions so successfully developed an effective system of international education, and how the lessons learned in that process can be applied in countries and educational institutions seeking their own success in this enterprise.

The book contains contributions from many leading policy makers and practitioners in international education and was supported by the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) and many organizations including Australian Government departments and agencies, state governments, all 39 Australian universities, institutions from other sectors, peak bodies and education-related organizations.

Friday, 7 December 2012

The latest student visa stats: what they do and don't show

Last week's immigration statistics from the Home Office were much trumpeted by a government keen to show it is being tough on immigration, stressing the headline reductions in net migration, in large measure due to a drop in international students coming to study in the UK measured variously by
  • a 26% decrease in the number of visas issued in the year to September 2012 compared to the previous year; 
  • a 10% drop in students entering the country for study in 2011 compared to 2010, 
  • and a fall of 7% in the number of students as estimated by the International Passenger Survey for the year ending March 2012 compared to the previous year.
The headline figures, however, disguise enormous sectoral differences.

While the government may claim that the HE sector is unaffected using the figure of a 1% increase in visa applications (from 154,575 to 155,821), in the context of the global demand for international study, a 1% increase is undoubtedly a cut in market share, and at best a flatlining in terms of numbers.

Yet more worrying is what is going in in other sectors.  Even independent schools - which the government has said are not a concern in immigration terms - are showing a 17% fall.  This is unsurprising given the link between choosing a UK school and intention to progress to university - a clear sign of the damage to pathways through the education sector.

The really catastrophic evidence comes in the impact on language schools and the FE sector.  Applications for Tier 4 visas for language schools have fallen 76%, from 15,930 to a mere 3,748 in the year ending September 2012.  While some students may have opted for an Extended Student Visitor Visa instead of a Tier 4 visa (often of necessity as the number of Tier 4 sponsors in the sector has fallen), this is still a worrying trend of a decline in the long-stay segment of the market, which is important not only in its own right but as a feeder for the rest of the sector.  Equally of concern is that the FE sector (including both public FE colleges and a mix of private tertiary colleges) experienced a 67% dip from 99,296 visa applications to only 32,900 in the year ending September 2012.  A number of factors are no doubt in play here: inequitable work rights for students, the loss of licences (for colleges all parts of the sector) and closure of many private colleges, leading to bad publicity and in some cases exit from the market.

These latter figures reflect a report from Study UK earlier in the year that colleges were seeing 70% falls in applications.  Even if a proportion of these institutions or students were mis-using the student route, it seems implausible that the figure was as high as two-thirds.  The impact on genuine students and genuine colleges is clear - as are the direct and indirect knock on effects of loss of current and future business.

The Home Office figures also pick up on the rising number of student visitor visas, alongside the fall in Tier 4 visas: student visitor visas have increased by 12% to 66,569 in the year to September 2012.  Not all student visitors have to apply for a visa in advance however, so we must also look at the total number of those admitted under the student visitor category, including those who were granted this on arrival, giving a total of 262,000 in 2011.

Putting two and two together, as John Vine has done in his recent Tier 4 report, it is easy to see how he concludes:
We found a potential risk of non-genuine students opting to apply for Student (Visitor) visas instead of Tier 4. Student (Visitor) visas are not subject to the same stringent rules that are applied to Tier 4. In early 2012, for the first time since the introduction of Tier 4, a greater number of Student (Visitor) visas than Tier 4 visas were issued. The Agency needs to be alert to this to ensure that this route is not exploited in the future. 
Yet inspecting the Home Office figures, the breakdown of nationalities shows little evidence of this displacement.  Of the top ten nationalities issued visitor visas in 2011, only China, Saudi Arabia, India and Nigeria overlap with the top ten countries for Tier 4 student visas, and the scale is quite different - 52,484 Tier 4 visas to Chinese nationals compared to 7,430 student visitor visas, 34,827 Tier 4 visas for Indian students compared to 3,659 student visitor visas.  In terms of student visa admissions, almost half are from the US (and though I've heard it said that Brits are one of the largest groups of illegal aliens in the US, I've never heard that the reverse was true.)  So while John Vine's assessment of the potential weakness of the student visitor route may be correct, the statistics don't yet show evidence of displacement.

If these figures give us cause for concern, it is not over potential abuse of the student route, but about the impact of Tier 4 on the education sector as a whole, including the warning signals that in a year's time even higher education could be seeing really significant falls in new student numbers unless there are significant changes soon in the government's student immigration policy.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Mapping global flows

If you're interested in global flows of international students in any direction, it's well worth a look at UNESCO's new interactive map on the global flow of tertiary students.  If you select UK in the drop down box, and click on "where do students come from", the map of the world turns even pinker than in the heyday of the British Empire.  If ever there was a graphic indication of the soft-power potential of international student mobility, this is it.

While we nervously wait to see whether more or fewer international students come to the UK in the current climate it's worth noting that emerging education hub Singapore is reporting a marked drop in its international student numbers, and Australia continues to report a decline in numbers in all sectors in its latest figures, despite strenuous efforts to reverse some of the immigration and safety factors which have made it less attractive in recent years (it can do little about the strength of its currency).

Now go back to the UNESCO map and look at the outward flows for the UK.  With the caveat that the data is incomplete (no data for instance on the country of origin of any students in China), it's worth comparing the small total outward mobility from the UK with the aspirations expressed in a recent British Council study in which one in three respondents thought they would have benefited from living or studying abroad.  While raising domestic student fees may changes the incentives (HSBC reckons studying in the UK is now the fourth most expensive option for English students) that policy alone may not be a game changer. [See Rachel Brooks' blog on the evidence to date.]

Compare once again with Australia.  Following a white paper on Australia in the Asian Century, the Australian government is committing A$37 million  (£24 million) to a grants scheme for study abroad in Asia
 which aims to help over 10,000 Australians gain experience of work or study in Asia.  Now that might really make its mark on the map.

Monday, 15 October 2012

The highly skilled migrants debate

It's desperately depressing to hear Theresa May at the Conservative Party Conference equating the recruitment of international students with "importing more and more immigrants" and describing it as "the counsel of despair".

Thankfully, for every voice seeking to throw up the walls of fortress Brtain a little higher, there are equal numbers advocating the opposite (though according to May these are "vested interests").

A new Policy Exchange report on digital entrepreneurship argues for reinstating a two-year post-study visa for STEM graduates, as well as other relaxations of visa requirements for skilled migrants.  They cite the US as an example to follow - although the US is currently reporting a decline in immigrant-led entrepreneurship - perhaps due to tighter visa restrictions.  Although both Democrats and Republicans have put forward bills for an increase in the number of visas available to international students to stay on and work, none have yet been adopted.  Unlike Germany, where the new blue card scheme is proving attractive to international students. 

Meanwhile the Economist laments the 11% drop in international students enrolling on Economist-ranked UK MBAs (and similarly for European MBAs more generally), due to the lack of post study work options, the London Met debacle and the slump in the European economy.  Their figures show that it is Canada and Australia who are benefitting from their more welcoming visa stance and booming economies, while MBAs in Asia are also on the up.  It counsels that "If rich countries do not lay out welcome mats soon, they may find the queues outside their doors have disappeared."

Perhaps as a result of immigration policies increasing focus on higher-skilled migrants (if encouraging immigration at all), it is interesting to note that a recent OECD report finds that the proportion of migrants who are graduates has increased: a third of those who arrived in OECD countries in the last five years have a degree, and in countries including the UK, that figure rises to half.  (This has potential implications for brain drain - although, on a related note Professor Sharun Mukand's recent paper argues that relaxing immigration rules could benefit the global economy, and be an effective tool for development and poverty reduction - so perhaps brain circulation wins out after all.)

And another useful statistic from another recent OECD paper (see link above), for those concerned about the balance of net migration in the UK.  The report finds that 1.7 million highly educated migrants within the OECD area are from India, 1.3 million from the Philippines, 1.2 million from China... and 1.3 million from the UK. Good thing for our net migration figures that so many other countries have a welcoming immigration policy...

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Human Rights and Human Wrongs

This month the Australian Human Rights Commission has published Principles to promote and protect the human rights of international students.  As Dr Helen Szoke, the Race Discrimination Commissioner said at the launch:
Each year, families all over the globe bid farewell to loved ones as they set out overseas – to study, to work, to explore a wider world. They do so expecting that these loved ones will be treated with respect and with dignity – that they will have the same sort of access to services as others at their destination; that they will be safe; that their rights as human beings will be recognised wherever they go....

...[but] social isolation, poverty, exclusion from health services or affordable housing, sexual harassment and exploitation, excessive transport costs, and prohibitive fees to access government schools for their children are just some of the disadvantages confronting those who rightly come expecting more.

This is in addition, of course, to the occasional physical violence we know has been experienced by some in recent years; as well as the discrimination and hostility that many report.

All of this means that some international students experience life in Australia as second class members of the community, despite their hopes of a first class education.
The principles advocate for
  • the removal of barriers to equality and equality of access to basic services such as health and housing
  • providing access to complaints procedures and legal redress
  • understanding the diversity of international students' needs
  • encouragement of international student participation and engagement
If we use these as a measure of international students'  experiences in the UK, how do we shape up?

On the plus side, international students do have good access to health services and education for their children (at least, for those decreasing number allowed to bring dependants), to travel discounts and at least optional accommodation accreditation schemes.  There are also lots of interesting examples of ways institutions promote student participation and engagement in the UK, though inevitably this is work in progress.

On the negative side, although violent incidents such as the murder of Anuj Bidve are exceptional, evidence shows that international students, like students from BME communities in the UK, do encounter racism (see for instance the NUS No Place for Hate report), and this is an area where we must not be complacent about its impact and the need for support.  (As an aside, there's an interesting Inside Higher Ed article on how some US campuses are challenging online hate speech - a reminder that students encounter racism on campus as well as off.)

On complaints and legal redress, we are currently working with sector bodies to see how these issues can be addressed more systematically across the sectors (public and private), to identify gaps and propose how they can be filled.  Licence revocations and college closures over the last year have demonstrated the potential vulnerability of international students.  For those who have taken the leap to come here, we owe them at the very least a safety net.  But how best to put that in place?  Where should responsibility lie?  Thoughts and comments welcome.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Outward mobility: spontaneity and strategy

Last week's European Association for International Education (EAIE) conference in Dublin was, as ever, an excellent place to be if you're interested in student mobility in any direction, and gives me a good excuse to pick up on a variety of mobility-related topics.

If you're interested in the changing face of global student mobility, there are few better places to start than the latest OECD Education at a Glance analysis of changes and trends, "Who studies abroad and where?". It shows that international student mobility has continued to grow strongly, not just matching but outstripping the growth of tertiary enrolment globally.  The picture is still dominated by the traditional big receiving countries, but they are generally losing market share while growth is fastest in non-traditional destinations in Latin America and the Caribbean, Oceania and Asia, in part reflecting growth of regional mobility.  Nonetheless, there's an extraordinarily long way to go before there is any sort of balance of the flows of international students globally.

Taking that issue to our own back yard, some recent statistics from the Netherlands give an indication whether the much publicised rise in UK students going there is real and significant.  The national mobility agency, NUFFIC, produces excellent statistics on international student mobility, showing that students from the UK are now the sixth biggest group of "diploma mobile" students (ie those registered for full degrees), numbering 1,142 in 2011-12 compared to 792 in 2007-08, on a moderately steady upward trend (a further 500 or so were in the Netherlands for "credit mobility" via Erasmus etc).  Our own inestimable HESA shows me that there were 3,340 Dutch students registered at UK HEIs in 2010-11 (the latest year for which data is available), so we have some way to go until we achieve a balance of flows, even with a neighbouring and anglophone-friendly country.

This week the Student Room suggests that this isn't due to lack of interest but lack of knowledge.  Their survey found 72% of UK were interested in studying at a university abroad, but 56% didn't know how to apply.  Wandering round the exhibition at the EAIE showed that the answer is easy:
  1. Pick a country.
  2. Type into your browser www.studyin[name of country].[appropriate contraction of country name for web URL] eg
  3. Hey presto, you've got a national gateway to study in said country. (or alternatively see UKCISA's list of country contacts for all those that don't quite fit the rule).
This plethora of agencies and websites promoting inward mobility is reflected in recent research on national mobility strategies by the Academic Cooperation Association (presented at EAIE), which showed that most countries focus their efforts on promoting inward degree mobility and outward credit mobility (from which inward credit mobility is merely a side-effect).  Hence for the outwardly diploma-mobile student, there is still the problem of navigating that bewildering choice of "studyin..." websites, and no single gateway to help.  (Though watch this space - plans are currently afoot in the UK for an outward portal of some kind.)

For the most part, of course, national mobility strategies are most actively fulfilled at institutional level, where there is no stake in promoting outward diploma mobility (quite the contrary).  As the recent European University Association MAUNIMO study shows, efforts to implement mobility strategies at institutional level, let alone at national level, meet with limited success and reveal a wide range in levels of awareness, buy-in and expertise.  So despite the growing interest in international student mobility at a national level in many countries, we can expect the global patterns of mobility to change only incrementally, even as the absolute numbers increase at a much faster pace.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

'What's in a welcome?' - Intercultural experiences

“What’s in a welcome?”
Intercultural Learning from Internships and Study Abroad

Helen Spencer-Oatey, University of Warwick

If you were starting a new job or a new course, what kind of welcome would you count as “warm”?  Students on the MSc Intercultural Communication for Business & the Professions (run by the Centre for Applied Linguistics, CAL, at the University of Warwick) were in for some surprises when they went on their four-week Experiential Placement module in the summer term. This optional module offers students the opportunity to work or study in a ‘culturally unfamiliar’ setting and to put into practice many of the things they have learned during their master’s course.

Six of the students went to CAL’s partner university in Beijing, the University of International Business and Economics. Their welcome was extremely formal. Seated around a very large mahogany table, the Dean of the School of International Studies (SIS), Professor Dr Wang Lifei and the Party Secretary of the SIS Communist Committee, Ms Zhang Cuiping, gave formal speeches to welcome the students. In response, they were expected to give return speeches. The welcome meeting was followed by a sumptuous banquet. The students were overwhelmed and hugely impressed by the grandeur of the events. 

In contrast, many of the Chinese students who undertook work placements in local UK organisations were welcomed quite differently - their boss offered to get them a cup of tea to help settle them in. Here are their reactions: “This wouldn’t be possible in China. The first meeting must be formal and serious so that managers can show their authority and new staff can show their respect.” “In China subordinates take initiatives to meet the needs of their boss. Letting superiors do things for subordinates is disrespectful and shameful.”  When asked what impression it conveyed if a boss made tea for a newcomer, their response was immediate: “Something serious is about to happen, like being fired!”  In fact, such a negative meaning is conveyed in a Chinese saying: The boss invites you to drink tea.1 Fortunately, the students were sensible enough to realise it was a cultural difference and not to get too worried!

All students were required to keep an ‘Intercultural Learning Journal’, drawing on the intercultural theories they had learned during their course to help them reflect on and analyse their experiences. They were unanimous that they had grown immensely during their placement. One explained it like this:

‘How can s/he behave like this?’, ‘What’s wrong with her/him?’, ‘S/he must be crazy, I would never do such stupid things.’ For a long time I had those ideas when I experienced something different from what I thought it should be. The first time I got a low grade for my assignment during the course, I asked what was wrong with the British grading system. The first time I had a misunderstanding with my Indian flat mate, I questioned how he could behave like this. … My reaction echoes the words of Shaules (2007: 73) 2:  “When our environment is different than what we are used to, we automatically seek to explain, justify or criticize unusual phenomena in order to maintain our sense that we operate in a meaningful world. … we are not far away from being prejudiced.” However, with the passage of time, and accumulation of this cultural experience in the UK, I found myself being less judgmental and more tolerant and open towards differences.

As another put it, “a precious experience to promote further understanding”.

1 老板请你喝
2 Shaules, J. (2007) Deep Culture. The Hidden Challenges of Global Living. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Towards a Canadian international education policy

Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has just published the report of a working party on producing a national international education strategy.  If you're surprised that they don't already have one, bear in mind that education is controlled at provincial, not national level, and while provinces such as British Columbia have had active policies for more than a decade, others have evolved more slowly.  

For a UK reader, International Education: A Key Driver of Canada’s Future Prosperity will have echoes of familiarity for those who remember the Prime Minister's Initiative (the panel even says that it "sees the Prime Minister as a unifying champion for international education").  In places there are even explicit references to aspects of UK international education policy which the report reccommends Canada learn from: such as the "complex and multifaceted bilateral agreements with priority countries" (presumably UKIERI and UK China).

However, before anyone in the UK is tempted to bask in reflected glory or assume the Canadians are just playing catch-up, there are some important issues here.  A central message of the report is that the UK (and US, Australia and New Zealand) are currently facing some significant challenges, and that Canada is well-placed to step in and claim greater market share (the suggested target is to double Canada's 240,000 in 2011 by 2022).  It "define[s] Canada’s value proposition as one of offering high quality at affordable costs in a safe, multicultural environment."  A key issue here is that Canada is not just looking for international students to come, study and return home.  With significant issues about meeting future labour market needs, this policy is as much about skilled migration as it is about exports and soft power. 

A second issue is that while Canada is becoming more strategic in its approach to international education, the UK has been steadily losing focus on this issue.  Current tensions between the Coalition government's immigration policy objectives, and its economic and educational objectives are currently impeding any joined-up (or as the Canadian report calls it "aligned") policies.  And whereas in Canada the lead is coming from the department responsible for foreign affairs, here the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is far from leading, while BIS and the Home Office try to reconcile their differing objectives.

On a more positive note, all those who believe more UK students should be encouraged to study abroad (something on which David Willetts and Damian Green can no doubt agree, though probably for different reasons), will be heartened to see that the Canadians are recommending that "substantial resources" be invested in maintaining mature markets such as the UK.  So although on the one hand it's tempting to shout "The Canadians are coming!" in relation to their increasingly active international education policy, let's hope we can balance it with "And the Brits are heading over there in response!".  After all, international strategies shouldn't be all one way.

Friday, 27 July 2012

No more international students?

Finally coming up for air after the UKCISA conference 2012, out of many interesting sessions, the one which has made most impact was Jonathan Rees and Gail Horton's thought-provoking session Who then really is an international student?

As they demonstrated, our "home" student population is increasingly diverse in terms of background in terms of residence, schooling, parental nationality, etc.  Similarly, many "international" students have some degree of previous experience of living or studying in the UK.  The categories are a mere administrative convenience relating to fee status or immigration status, but may not reflect students' own sense of identity, or give any meaningful clue as to whether they have any particular support needs relating language, cultural adaptation or visa formalities.  Worse still, does such labelling further inhibit integration, and encourage "othering" and an "us/them" mentality on campus - not only among students, but also between students and staff?

So what are the implications of this?  What would it look like if we dropped the "international" label?  Should "International Offices" be replaced by "Mobility and Visa Services Offices"?  One orientation programme for all, with pick and mix sessions for those who need on visas, cultural adaptation etc? (We know that's already happening in increasing numbers of institutions).  Should Language Support be more fully integrated with Study Support?  No doubt there are countless other examples where we could question our current labelling and categorising.

So when I find myself drawn to the idea of "No more international students", it's not in the sense that some of the more xenophobic of our press and public might mean.  Instead lets just drop the labels: a student is a student is a student.  Let's find more inclusive ways of supporting diversity.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Promoting outward mobility

Regular readers of this blog will have noticed a a running theme of comparing national policies on internationalisation.  This week: how both the UK and Japan are keen to increase outward student mobility.

In the UK recent weeks have continued the surge of interest in outward mobility, with the publication of the Riordan report and David Willetts' announcement of a successor to the Erasmus fee waiver (which will also cover Erasmus work placements and study outside the EU) and the possible establishment of a national mobility strategy for England and a body to co-ordinate it. (Scotland has, of course, had the Students Without Borders project in place for sometime.)

Japan, it seems is equally concerned about falling numbers of outwardly mobile students.  An article by Dr Yuriko Sato in the Academic Cooperation Association's newsletter gives details of recent Japanese government initiatives to encourage the internationalisation of Japanese universities and students.  These initiatives are well-funded while they last, but the author questions what will happen when the funding dries up.

That remains the crucial question for the UK too.  It's great to see funding committed to supporting students who are mobile through Erasmus and other schemes, but if we are to encourage real step-changes in the proportion of mobile UK students, any new national strategy will need some real resource behind it.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Equality, diversity & internationalisation

This week the Equality Challenge Unit launched their report Attracting international students: equitable services and support, campus cohesion and community engagement providing the findings of a study of five Scottish universities in relation to equality and diversity issues and internationalisation.  It's a welcome recognition that these two agendas, so often led by separate parts of an institution, in practice are deeply intertwined, and that looking at one through the lens of the other provides useful insights.  

For example, do we provide equitable services for home and international students, and how best to do so?  How well do institutions deliver on the statutory public duty to promote good relations on campus, and with (and within) the local community?  Do institutions have good links with community organisations, and how are these used to expand the support services that are provided to sections of the international student community?

The report celebrates the good work already being done, and provides opportunities to explore good practice, and reflect on existing provision.  It also exhorts institutions to bridge the academic/administrative divide and help raise awareness among academics of the ways in which support services can help their students succeed, stressing the vital role of tutors and lecturers in referring and signposting students towards the services they need.

This report is worth putting in the context of a recent piece of research by German organisation SVR which (according to the PIE News) found that in a study of five European countries, the impact of discrimination on students' decision to stay or leave, the UK came out best, with Germany and France worst at nearly 40%.  Yet even in the UK, over a quarter of international students complained of discrimination.  As this and the ECU report show, there is more work to do.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Migration, internationalisation and more

If you follow international student issues in the UK, you'll no doubt have seen this week's coverage of the latest IPPR report on the perverse consequences of including international students in the calculation of net migration.  

A less well publicised, but equally interesting, report from the National Bureau of Economic Research in the US, reported by Scott Jaschik gives us some useful data about migration in the context of brain drain/gain/circulation.  Unsurprisingly, there is a high proportion of immigrant* research staff in countries like Australia (44.5%), Canada (46.9%), USA (38.4%) and UK (32.9%) - although the highest of all the 16 countries included is Switzerland at 56.7% (*defined for the purpose of this study as those who lived elsewhere at age 18).  By contrast, levels are far lower in countries like Japan (5%), Italy (3%) and India (0.8%).  The breakdown of source countries confirms the truism that the US system is very dependent on researchers from China (16.9%) and India (12.3%), but also that there is much regional mobility, as well as possible linguistic influence - not least evident in the Brits who make up 13.5% of researchers in Canada and 21.1% of those in Australia.  Meanwhile a report on a paper from the OECD suggests that babyboomer academics are retiring at a faster rate than new PhD graduates coming through the system, leading to a likelihood of growing international competition for talent.

Elsewhere in the news this week, NAFSA have published a paper on Measuring and Assessing Internationalization, which encouragingly acknowledges that internationalisation shouldn't be measured as an end in itself, and focuses mainly on the issue of assessing students' "global learning".  This reflects some of the issues discussed in the recent Warwick Integration Summit (see previous blog).  And if you think that's the way forward, have a look at the forthcoming Higher Education Academy event at the University of Glasgow on Internationalising Graduate Attributes: Buildilng an Inclusive Curriculum which will report on the outcome of some student-led research on the topic.

Another call to rethink internationalisation comes from the Vice-Chancellor of a Malaysian University.  Dzulkifli Abdul Razak points out that Singapore has rowed back on its enthusiastic policy of increasing international student numbers in the face of domestic criticism and fears that home students were being displaced (sound familiar?), leading to a possible cap on numbers, and rescinding a scheme to allow international students to stay on for a year to seek employment (sounding even more familiar?).  He echoes the concerns of the recent IAU report that internationalisation must not be allowed to become the cart driving the horse, and echoes concerns I heard from Malaysian colleagues over a decade ago that internationalisation must not be a cover for creeping Westernisation by the back door.  A useful reminder that even (and perhaps especially) such seemingly benign concepts as internationalisation can be culturally-based and biased.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Ethics for agents: a welcome statement

The UK, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand have recently agreed to jointly endorse a Statement of Principles for the Ethical Recruitment of International Students by Education Agents and Consultants.(known as the London Statement)  While in the US, the use of agents is currently subject to much debate, other leading host countries have long accepted agents as a fact of life, and have endeavoured to work with them, while recognising that standards of service do vary enormously.  The British Council, for example, offers agent training to help build a cadre of agents who are well-informed about the UK and can give students the best possible advice about studying there. 

In an ideal world, we might all wish to see some form of accreditation system which checked up on agents' competence to advise, ensured they were acting ethically and provided a complaints scheme for students who had been poorly advised.  Providing any such scheme on a global basis would be a colossal undertaking, and it is therefore understandable that the London Statement is only a statement of principles, not a kitemarking scheme.

Nevertheless, it provides a useful indicator to students of what standards of service they should expect.  It will remain vital for students to seek independent advice about the competence and impartiality of any agent they wish to use, not just to take at face value agents' claims abouting adhering to the principles.

Institutions too can help by encouraging adherence to the principles, ensuring they vet agents, and clearly publicise with which agents they have agreements.

So while "buyer beware" remains the motto, we welome the London statement for asserting international students' right to expect impartial and expert advise.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Should I stay or should I go now?

While the UK government continues to worry about how to bring down net migration and discourage students from staying on, the Dutch government not only wants international graduates to stay, it also wants to encourage its international alumni to return.  Following a report that many didn't know about their options to stay and work, the Dutch international education organisation NUFFIC is setting up a new business and careers portal in association with the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, expected to go live in November.  Now that sounds like a good way to make international students feel welcome.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

A return to the bad old days?

For many years international students applying for a visa to study in the UK had to prove their intention to return home at the end of their studies.  This gave Entry Clearance Officers an extraordinary power to base decisions on subjective judgements (what constitutes proof for an 18 year old about to enter a whole new life by virtue of embarking on a degree abroad?)  One of the greatest strengths of the Points Based System was, at least on paper, the abolition of such subjective tests – decisions should be based on evidence of ability to study not on judgements about intentions.

The recent press coverage trailing plans to re-introduce visa interviews raise alarm bells, not least because they appear to be politically motivated headline chasing, rather than well-developed policy decisions.  No details are available yet to confirm the procedures and criteria which will apply, nor has any evidence been placed in the public domain to explain why, when the Olympics are already placing a strain on the UK Border Agency’s resources, and overseas posts in particular, resources are to be diverted to interviewing student visa applicants in one or more countries.

Earlier this year the UK Border Agency told us, in response to our Tier 4 survey, that they had no plans to change the requirements for English language testing, as this had already raised the standard of English among applicants.  Yet press coverage of the “secret pilots” tells us that language is one of the concerns.  No details have been published about what gives them cause for concern about the language levels of students interviewed.  Do UKBA have reason to believe the Secure English Language Tests they themselves selected and approved have proved liable to fraud?  Do they believe UKBA staff are better equipped than universities to judge the English language capabilities of students?  Surely Highly Trusted Sponsors should be warned as a matter of urgency of any weaknesses in the system which UKBA have identified.

Sponsors will be equally keen to know if UKBA has information about fraudulent qualifications or financial information, having emphasised since the introduction of the Points Based System that if the responsibility for policing these was shifted from UKBA to institutions, there must be intelligence sharing between the two.  It was never logical to expect institutions, working at a distance, to be able to vet documents with the same access to local knowledge as ECOs working in each country (or even, with the hub and spoke system, working on a group of countries).

We hope that UKBA will speedily be sharing with sponsors (who are all by definition highly trusted these days), the concerns it has about the applicants in its pilot study, and will be working with the sector to identify how best any remaining abuses in the system can be rooted out.  It is in no-one’s interest to perpetuate loopholes for the unscrupulous, but neither is it in the interest of UKBA to leave sponsors out of the loop. 

And after extensive bad press for the UK’s student visa system, the last thing we can afford at this point is any suggestion that international students will once more be subject to erratic and subjective judgement by UK visa officials.

Monday, 12 March 2012

The challenges of intercultural integration

Last week's Warwick Integration Summit provided a welcome break from agonising over the impact of the latest immigration changes.  Instead, the focus was on the potentially transformative impact of an internationally diverse campus, and whether we are helping both home and international students get the most of such an experience.  I share below my interpretation of and reflections on what speakers said.  Any gems of wisdom are theirs, and any errors and confusions are mine alone!

Helen Spencer-Oatey challenged us to think about what we are trying to achieve in internationalising.  Few institutions have a clear statement on whether, how and why they are trying to promote integration.  We focus on the objective aspects of culture (the tip of the iceberg), and fail to think about the deeper changes (to the subjective realm of norms and assumptions).  Or, distinguishing between products, practices and perspectives, we might think we are becoming more internationalised by issuing a Diploma Supplement (a product to explain our grading system), but are we examining our practices (why do we use a percentage scale but not give marks in the top 25% of that scale), and do we really challenge our assumptions (what are we valuing when we award grades)?  We should aim to explore and respond to difference in order to develop and grow.

Darla Deardorff reminded us that intercultural learning doesn't just happen as a result of coming into contact with others who are different from us.  It needs preparation, a suitable environment and support, and plenty of follow-through.  Moreover, measuring it isn't easy - many instruments are available, but if planning to use any of these, you need to know what you're trying to evaluate, and use a variety of methods.

Ema Ushioda explained that the drive to change comes from internal motivation.  If we are to enable students to engage interculturally we must help encourage the forces that motivate them, and provide a supportive and encouraging environment and raise awareness of the opportunities and benefits available to them.

My own contribution was to encourage participants to think about a whole of institution approach, covering all aspects of the student experience (learning, extra-curricular, social and daily life), within the context of what was needed and possible within their own institutional context.  We need to find ways of measuring whether our effort is having an effect to make best use of scarce resources.  And we must remember there is no neutral space outside of culture.  If contact with other cultures raises questions about ways in which we should change, we shouldn't be defensive about being British, but instead just learn to be reflectively British.

Of course, much of the real work and insight was in the breakout sessions.  While participants clearly face challenges ranging from lack of top-down support to resource and workload pressures, all kinds of interesting work is being done from Warwick's Go Global campaign to Loughborough's Experience the World, and many other examples.  Thanks to Warwick for providing this opportunity to share ideas - this is a conversation we all hope to continue.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Post UUK debate

What was important of course about Wednesday's UUK event was that the very public debate happened, that Universities UK saw it as sufficiently important to put their full weight behind it, that Prof Eric Thomas as President spoke eloquently and openly on the risk of current government policy, and that Keith Vaz MP, on return from a recent visit to India was especially clear about the damage which was currently being done overseas.

Everyone now seems to understand the arguments.  All we are now searching for is a political tipping point so that students can be taken out of the migration figures – as most agree they should: they just can’t work out how.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

What kind of migration game are we in?

At today's Universities UK Competing Globally debate, some familiar themes were aired around the importance of not throwing out the baby with the bathwater when reforming the student immigration system. 

These views are not only coming from the education sector itself: in recent days other prominent voices include the Wilson review of business-university collaboration, which has expressed concerns about the impact of restricting the flow of international research students; comments from John Cridland, Director General of the Confederation of British Industry, about the importance of supporting education exports, as one of the UK's few current commercial successes and Simon Walker, Director General of the Institute of Directors who also fears government visa changes are threatening this successful business.

What most agree is needed to create a rational debate around student visas, is a distinction between permanent and temporary categories of migrant.  The government has yet to be persuaded to use these categories in the way they are used in the US and Australia, and still insists that UN definitions force it to categorise students together with any other migrant coming to the UK for 12 months.  Yet, in today's statement of intent on the review on employment-related settlement, Tier 5 and overseas domestic workers, the government does state that it plans to "categorise all visas as either 'temporary' or 'permanent'." which, if applied to students, must recognise that their impact is different to those who come to settle, and opens the door to rational debate about whether the balance of their economic and social contributions to the UK are positive or negative.

The other key part of this jigsaw is how temporary migrants such as students affect the net migration figures (the mast to which the government has rather unfortunately nailed its colours).  The Migration Observatory have today issued figures on what they call the "net migration bounce": reduce incoming numbers of temporary migrants today, and somewhere down the line you reduce the number of outgoing temporary migrants.  It seems that attempts to reach the "tens of thousands" net immigration target are possibly not only misguided, but doomed.

In the complex picture of global student flows, it is perhaps also worth picking up on another recent article in which Philip Altbach disputes that brain drain is a thing of the past: the figures he quotes from the US show that it remains alive and well in some quarters of the world.  Perhaps that is inevitable in a world with free movement of capital and (even partially) of labour.  But does it do anything to address the global inequalities which are the driving force behind most migration?  It's an issue beyond the control of most individual universities - and indeed most individual governments.  But that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep it in our frame of reference.  Attracting the best and brightest may be in the UK's short-term interests, but not at the expense of countries who have even greater need than us of their most highly skilled citizens.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Post-Study Work

An interesting little exchange last week between the Director-General of the Institute of Directors and our good friends at Migrationwatch on the merits of abolishing the Post-Study Work scheme and replacing with limited access to Tier 2.

The IoD said it would do untold damage to Britain's interests to summarily evict students with MBAs once their courses had finished and especially as so many of them came from BRIC countries - the UK's leading trading partners.

Migrationwatch robustly replied suggesting that if someone with an MBA could not get a graduate job on a salary of £20K, they were not the sort of person the UK economy needed anyway.

The sad truth however is that many of the 'brightest and the best' - a phrase which the government seems to like to use - do not do MBAs or other courses which shoot them straight into well-paid city jobs.  They do project management, engineering, computer studies, architecture, pharmacy, etc etc and could be real assets in companies across the country and in many regions where starting salaries of £20K are virtually unheard of.

As the April D-day approaches, we lament the likely loss of talent.