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.