“If it becomes a circulation, I am all for it. The challenge is not for universities; the challenge is for government to put the money up”
In countries where the number of outbound students outweighs those coming into the country to study, brain drain is an issue that must be addressed at the government level, said Nico Jooste, vice president of the International Education Association of South Africa.
He suggested that foreign governments should provide financial support to enable students and researchers to come to developing countries in order to help build their research capacity.
“If it becomes a circulation, I am all for it. The challenge is not for universities; the challenge is for government to put the money up,” he challenged.
Diaspora communities also provide an opportunity to encourage this circulation, suggested Chris Ziguras, president of IEAA in Australia, given that research shows students are more likely to study abroad in a country where they have a personal connection.
“One of the challenges for governments is how to manage those diaspora networks effectively,” he said.
“I think that’s where the brain drain/brain circulation policy issue is headed, and how countries like South Africa and Singapore can manage their communities all over the world and connect them back into the home community.”
However, Fanta Aw, president of NAFSA, challenged the idea that it is up to governments to address brain drain, saying that in the US, public-private partnerships are what is really driving mobility.
“From a mobility policy standpoint, government can either create barriers or it can facilitate, but when it comes to the actual level of activity, particularly in terms of research structure, the private sector has much more of a role to play in that realm than government does,” she argued.
Meanwhile in Europe, Leonard Engel, executive director of EAIE, echoed that research has also shown that mobility in academic research has been “very much driven by the institutions themselves”.
Another reason institutions should consider where students are going is that intra-regional mobility alone does not create global citizens, Aw said.
“From a mobility policy standpoint, government can either create barriers or it can facilitate, but the private sector has much more of a role to play”
“This idea that we’re cultivating global citizens is certainly aspirational, but it is not cultivating global citizenship when much of the mobility is within Europe, or with Asia,” she commented.
She added that rising xenophobia seen in Europe and elsewhere is linked with “how we conceptualise the other”, and that “the fact that there is little engagement with parts of the word that are to coming to Europe speaks volumes about how Europe and everywhere else is in many ways opening their doors or not to their populations”.
Tied to this issue is universities’ approach to the refugee crisis, noted Ziguras.
“One of the issues we face in Australia is that international students tend to come from a fairly privileged background in their home country, on the whole, we have a liberal approach to those students coming in, we encourage them to come to Australia; but our government’s approach to refugees is completely the opposite,” he said.
“The higher education sector here is more welcoming than our government is, but there’s a cultural, political gulf between the cosmopolitan culture on our campuses and dominant culture of our societies.”
The panel also discussed whether, in aiming to create global citizens, international higher education simply serves to create global elites.
In Africa, money remains the biggest barrier to student mobility, said Jooste: “There isn’t somewhere a pot of gold that we can refer [students] to, and that’s the big problem in Africa.”
He argued that NGOs have a big role to play in providing scholarships and other support. In South Africa, these functions have been largely taken over by government in the last 20 years, he said, but explained: “The moment it goes into the government machinery, the bureaucracy takes it over and it disappears”.