Jason Lane and Kevin Kinser. Last fall, the Canadian government announced the creation of a new advisory panel to identify ways to tie international education to the nation’s economic and trade policy. In Brazil, the government is providing 75,000 scholarships for students to study overseas in the next four years. Qatar has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on importing branch campuses from the United States and other western nations.
With all of this in mind, last week SUNY and OECD co-hosted a conference in New York City entitled “Internationalization for Job Creation and Economic Growth: Increasing Coherence of Government and System Policies at a Time of Global Crisis.” With more than 100 people from 17 nations in attendance, there were a variety of perspectives on this issue, but one common theme emerged: the economic impact of higher education’s international activities is attracting significant attention from university systems and governments.
While many recent conferences have focused on the rationales for internationalization or the international activities that occur at the institutional level, the focus of this meeting was to discuss the ways in which systems and governments are engaging in or inhibiting internationalization. In this post, we discuss the role of governments. We’ll look at the role of systems in a subsequent blog.
From the outset, we should say that an important undertone throughout the meeting was that folks had different levels of comfort with the importance that economic development should have as a driver of international education–as opposed to other values such as demands for global knowledge and student social development. Yet, all agreed that international work led by universities has economic value and that we should better understand how governments and systems are affected by it.
One of the major points that we took away from the meeting is that the organizational forms for higher education are in transition. The ivory tower, isolated from and disdainful of its civil surroundings is certainly a myth today, though it isn’t simply that the ivy walls are tumbling down. It’s that all sorts of new arrangements, partnerships, and linkages are emerging to connect the expertise within the university to private industry in the community. Some of these involve universities directly as stakeholders in the initiatives. Others, however, put forward market-oriented solutions that are outsourced to the private sector with negligible university control. For example, we heard stories of multinational partnerships that created an innovative product design initiative by combining the research expertise of the university with the exacting market-based expectations of a manufacturing corporation. We also learned about how government and industry support can aid in internationalization efforts for students attending universities — less direct market value, perhaps, but with economic impact in terms of developing a globally competitive workforce.
The second theme is how governments around the globe are playing an increasingly important role in international education. There seem to be two forces driving national policies related to international education. The first is national security. At the most basic level governments control our international borders and they decide who can enter the country. Visa policies for international students are often the primary interaction between universities and governments in this arena. But government leaders are also influenced by economic motivations. International students bring new money to struggling institutions and local economies. For example, in 2010 the value of educational exports in the United States, which is mostly generated from foreign students studying in the United States, exceeded $20-billion. In addition, in nations with an aging or declining population, immigrants are important component of the nation’s workforce. In some cases we learned that governments are adjusting their visa policies to allow the foreign students to become foreign workers in industries demanding new and talented labor. We also discussed the many examples of nations such as Brazil and China that are subsidizing thousands of their students to study overseas.
We also noted how governments are interested in more than just students moving around the globe. The creation of foreign outposts where universities conduct research and teaching overseas is also being viewed as a way to create economic ties to with foreign nations. Not only do these outposts contribute to the local economies in which they reside, but in many cases they also serve to support the economic and trade policies of the home government. Of course the regulatory role of governments is clear here–both the importing and exporting governments have to allow for the creation of such entities. But, in nations such as Malaysia, China, Singapore, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, the governments have actively recruited and subsidized such initiatives as well. The emergence of education hubs and cities doesn’t occur without government support.
The conclusion is that government motivation to pay attention to internationalization is not about the experience of the individual student or institutional prestige. Rather it focuses on the expected contributions of international engagements to the nation’s economic and innovation systems. It remains true that most international-education activities emanate from individual colleges and universities. But discussions about internationalization must include the role that governments play in facilitating or inhibiting such activities.
How have you seen governments affect, positively or negatively, international education?