Brendan O'Malley. Given the great importance that most governments in Europe attribute to student and academic mobility in public statements, and the 1.5 million non-Europeans now studying in the region, it is remarkable how few have comprehensive and systematic mobility policies, a just-released study for the European Commission has found.
“With few exceptions, countries vaguely endorse mobility as a desirable activity and adopt a ‘the more the merrier’ approach,” the report says.
Mapping Mobility in the European Higher Area was released by the Academic Cooperation Association (ACA) last week, although submitted to the European Commission last June. It says Europe attracts far more foreign degree-seeking students than any other part of the world. Europe's global market share has even increased in the past decade, despite growing competition worldwide. Increasingly, foreign students in Europe come from other world regions.
But the striking differences that exist between individual European countries with regard to student mobility flows demand careful consideration when designing European-level mobility policies and instruments, the report argues. The study looks at mobility into, out of and between 32 European countries – the 27 European Union members, plus four European Free Trade Area countries and Turkey.
The number of European nationals from the 32 countries enrolled outside their country of nationality is considerably lower than those of foreign nationals studying in the Europe 32 zone. The total number of study abroad students in 2006-07 was 673,000, which is less than half the 1,507,000 foreign nationals studying in the Europe 32 countries during the same period. Study abroad by European grew between 1998-99 and 2006-07, but at 37.1% it is considerably below the proportion of foreign nationals studying in Europe.
In 2006-07, for every 1,000 students enrolled in their country of nationality, there were 33 nationals from that country studying abroad. But this average hides very important differences between countries. The extremes are Cyprus, where the majority of its citizens are enrolled abroad (1,380 abroad for every 1,000 at home), and the UK (12 abroad for every 1,000 in at home), where study abroad is a rare phenomenon.
Within countries the focus of policy statements is either on outgoing temporary mobility (19 countries), or on incoming diploma mobility (18). But outgoing degree mobility and incoming credit mobility play no role at all, the report says. Although the setting of quantitative targets is becoming more widespread, numerical targets are often still a little-understood concept and indicators are rarely precisely defined, the study says. Levels of mobility ambition vary strongly across Europe.
In terms of regional orientation, the EU-EEA is deemed the highest priority for most countries, especially those with a focus on temporary outgoing mobility. Neighbouring regions and parts of the world with old ties are also often mentioned, as are increasingly emerging countries such as Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRICs).
Graduate students are the favoured target group in incoming mobility. For outgoing mobility, the policies remain vague in terms of level of study. A wide range of measures is mentioned to facilitate and boost mobility, for example scholarship programmes, English-taught programmes, information and encouragement measures, marketing and promotion, recognition procedures and student services. But most countries remain somewhat vague on their reasons for wanting mobility, the report says.
Those with more palpable motivations mention an increase in the quality of education and in graduate employability. For incoming degree mobility ‘knowledge gains’ and related, economic reasons figure high. Skilled migration, internationalisation at home through more foreign students, development aid and foreign cultural policy are further rationales. The share of study abroad students in the Europe 32 area has even increased since 1998-99, from 82.2% to 85.5%.
But there is a lack of comparable data on the mobility of academic staff and researchers and even lack of agreement on the definition of who these people are. The study recommends improved collection of data on mobile scholars; doctoral awards; visits, exchanges and sabbaticals; and retrospective information on international mobility in the course of careers.
Among the obstacles to mobility cited by the report are:
* Lack of information on mobility opportunities.
* Low motivation levels or little interest in being mobile.
* Inadequate financial support.
* Foreign language skills deficiencies.
* Insufficient time or opportunity for international studies within the framework of an established curriculum or programme of study.
* Concerns about the quality of mobility experiences.
* Legal barriers (particularly relating to visas, immigration regulations, and work permits).
* Problems in gaining recognition for academic work completed abroad.
Incentives for mobility include:
* Financial support (mostly in the form of more money for individuals and-or mobility programmes).
* Curricular support through a variety of technical mechanisms (such as the implementation of the Diploma Supplement and ECTS) and innovative programming (including ‘mobility windows’).
* Personal support, especially in the form of guidance and counselling, to convince a wider range of individuals to take part and more consistently ensure a high quality mobility experience.
The study, having been commissioned by the European Commission, focuses its recommendations on action to be taken at the European level. But it warns that “given the very different aims of member states in mobility and the very different mobility levels and patterns in single countries – the main arena for intervention is the national level”.
For incoming degree mobility the ACA report recommends that a European-level target should be set of one in 10 students being incoming degree students. But it also recommends setting differentiated country growth targets.
“These growth targets would be higher for countries with currently low shares of incoming students, and lower for destinations with already high shares,” the report says.
On outgoing temporary – and mainly intra-European – student mobility, the study recommends continuing the present Erasmus programme relatively unchanged, by keeping it inclusive and open to all subject areas and levels of study and maintaining the emphasis on temporary mobility.
But Erasmus should be strengthened and funded to prioritise the creation of mobility windows and the application of robust recognition procedures. There should also be a quantitative target for outgoing temporary mobility in line with the Bologna target, but a definition of mobility must be applied that ensures serious minimum standards of duration and activity abroad.
Degree mobility should not count towards this target, but could be counted separately. Better support should be provided to encourage the temporary study of European students at selected high-class institutions in selected non-European countries, such as the BRICs.
The study was commissioned by the directorate general for education and culture, and conducted between October 2009 and June 2011. ACA coordinated the work, in close cooperation with Ulrich Teichler from INCHER-Kassel, two ACA member organisations (CampusFrance and DAAD) and the Hanover-based social science research institute Hochschul-Informations-System. The editors are Ulrich Teichler, Irina Ferencz and Bernd Wächter.