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Outgoing president of EAIE, Gudrun Paulsdottir

The European Association of International Education is Europe’s leading body advocating for internationalisation in higher education. We caught up with the president at the EAIE conference, Dublin, to talk about Europe’s changing education landscape.

The PIE: Of the 4,000 delegates who attended the EAIE conference this year most came from public sector universities, but a growing number were from the private sector. Is that reflective of a trend you’re seeing across Europe? 

Foto i blått 2010

"There is a reluctancy to charge huge fees because education has always been seen as free in Europe"

GP: That is definitely growing. With the current climate in higher education there are more and more opportunities for private bodies to come into the arena with support and educational services. And we do not make a difference between private and public providers as long as it fits within what we work with, international higher education.

However, if you’re looking at private providers of education we still don’t have very many of those. In Europe we have a fundamental educational philosophy: education has always been seen as something that should be free for all, as a right, and we are the last continent to not have introduced tuition fees apart from countries like the UK and Ireland. That philosophy is still there and many countries are still struggling with whether or not to introduce tuition fees.

The PIE: Sweden, and less recently Denmark, have introduced fees for non-EU students. Do you think more European countries will follow?

GP: We will probably see that growing across Europe. It is a fact that no county in Europe today, except perhaps Germany, can afford their higher education system. I think it worries the academics more than anyone else. But it is a change, and it is quite a dramatic change, and I think it’s quite important that when you take that step you really do it with thorough reflection and looking at the consequences.

“It is a fact that no county in Europe today, except perhaps Germany, can afford their higher education system”

Sweden opted for the version where non Europeans pay full fees, but Swedish and Europeans do not pay any fees. In Germany they tried to implement the same fee all over, but then it was up to states to decide, and now less and less of the states are using it.

In France it’s very much the same – equally spread over all students instead of targeting specific groups. But it all comes down to the fact that countries can’t afford their HE systems anymore. And there is a reluctancy to go in and charge huge fees because there is this philosophy in the background.

The PIE: You’ve launched an International Student Mobility Charter. Can you tell me more?

GP: Students that are mobile throughout the world are almost without any rights. We’ve seen this in Libya when Gaddafi disappeared. All of sudden you had thousands of students all over the world with no funding and they had no choice but to go home… they’re whole study experience is gone, their investment has disappeared.

Students can also be subjected to very arbitrary decisions by universities as has been the case with London Metropolitan University. What we’re trying to address with this is to create an awareness among universities and governments that if you engage in mobile student activities, there needs to be a support structure and procedures and regulations that are transparent so students know what they are getting into.

“If you engage in mobile student activities there needs to be a support structure so students know what they are getting into”

The PIE: What’s the ultimate aim with it?

GP: What we want to do is to raise awareness and to start maybe discussing in a more global setting how we can address these issues. We have a network of associations in international education that we will work. We are of course relying on them to help us spread this. We will also contact more global working organisations such as UNESCO and OECD.

It sounds pretentious perhaps to have a global charter, but if we can get the discussion going, enhance awareness that this issue needs to be addressed, then we’ve gone very far.

The PIE: How are you finding inbound mobility in Europe at the moment? Is there a lot of opportunity for universities?[More>>]

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