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.