Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Perspectives on mobility

Within the UK, we're used to seeing international student mobility primarily as recruitment of international students to full-degree programmes, and comparing ourselves most frequently to the other main English-speaking destination countries.  So it's refreshing to look at the latest report from Academic Cooperation Association (ACA):  Mapping Mobility in the European Higher Area

 This reminds us that Europe hosts more international students than any other continent, and over the past decade it has increased its market share, despite growing competition, with more students coming from outside the region, as well as the large amount of intra-European mobility that takes place.  Of course, there are large differences between European countries.  Some, such as Cyprus send more students abroad than they host (a ratio of 1.38 to 1).  At the end of the scale, the UK sends very few abroad, and receives many (12 out for every 1000 in). 

One unintended consequence of the success of intra-European mobility is picked up in a recent New York Times article, which reports on how European governments are addressing the financial implications of educating imbalanced numbers of other EU nationals.  It is a question which has been debated many times in the UK, but can also be seen in recent calls by the Dutch education minister that Germany should contribute to the cost of educating its nationals, and in Austria, where attempts were made to limit numbers of incoming EU nationals to some courses.  As the NYT points out, the Scandinavian countries have a voluntary agreement in place to reimburse each other for part of the costs of cross-border students' education, and it argues that a similar system is in effect coming into effect between the home nations in the UK. 

There is no sign, however, that any such agreements will become more widespread, and the economic argument is not overwhelming.  Many countries, including the UK, have recognised in the past that the even when incoming students receive a subsidised education, the host country benefits from their spend on living and other costs, and often benefits from their skills and tax contributions when they stay on to work. 

Although I have long argued that there's a benefit to the Treasury if UK students study abroad, there's no sign that outward full degree mobility will become a government priority any time soon (and the ACA study shows that no countries focus on this in their mobility policies, although some at least enable it through portability of student funding).  At best, a slight increase may result from increased domestic tuition fees.  As an article in the US "Foreign Policy" magazine suggests, with cheaper fees and tuition at home, the temptation will be to "outsource your kid".

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