Priorities around international education – including policies that impact on student mobility, transnational education and international research – were considered among national policies of 38 countries around the world.
The report finds that some governments provide greater support for activities such as research and student mobility, while others have hands-off approaches – allowing for greater institutional autonomy.
“International education is becoming more of an embedded part of national systems”
And student mobility can be a preoccupation of many countries, which promote their higher education systems as welcome and open.
“It seems that international higher education is a priority for a number of countries and this is not something we would’ve seen 10 to 15 years ago,” said Michael Peak, senior advisor on education research at the British Council.
“Quantitative indicators like student mobility and TNE all have increased hugely over the past five to 10 years and part of that is that countries are getting better at recording data so it’s becoming more of an embedded part of national systems.”
The top four countries and territories had policies which include: recognising TNE qualifications, visa policies in place for international research mobility and international student scholarships.
Meanwhile, Australia, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Malaysia and the UK are cited as the countries where activity is greatest at the institutional level.
Surprisingly, with over one million international students and high research output, the US is not among the highest scored countries in any indicators of the study.
Part of the reason is the absence of a national higher education policy, said Janet Ilieva, the report’s lead author.
“There isn’t a national policy and that’s mainly because internationalisation endeavours are driven at the institutional level,” she said. “I don’t think the sector gets the same level of support as institutions in Germany for example.”
“When you have both institutional autonomy and national support you get a tail wind,” Ilieva added, earmarking Australia, France and the Netherlands as countries where the sector works well together with policymakers.
And small countries that are open economically and highly international, like Hong Kong and the UAE, also perform strongly in international education.
“I was [impressed] by the level of support. Governments there are very ambitious and higher education is a way to signal your country is doing well,” Ilieva told The PIE News.
The theme where Ilieva has seen the most significant development is transnational education, especially in East Asia where policies change frequently to liberalise regulations around foreign providers.
“Five years ago, countries were trying to improve their own domestic higher education systems, and now that capacity building is increasingly outward looking,” she said.
“Foreign higher education was seen as a threat but now governments are seeing collaborations are supporting those local priorities to increase access to higher education.”
“When you have both institutional autonomy and national support you get a tail wind”
Of the three strategy themes, student mobility is the “preoccupation for governments around the world” commented Ilieva, with many making immigration policy that appeals to international students.
“We’ve seen recent changes in the UK that are deviating from the global trend,” she noted.
Reacting to the study’s findings, Vincenzo Raimo, pro-vice chancellor for global engagement at the University of Reading, praised the accomplishments of the UK’s HE sector over the past 20 years but identified a ‘short-termism’ that could hamper the sector’s ambitions.
“Until we truly grasp the wider benefits of internationalisation and are once again, prepared to take the long-term view, as places like Nottingham and Liverpool did at the beginning of this century, we will continue to see internationalisation through the myopic lens of short-term income generation,” he said.
The report calls for further analysis of the realities of the policy positions of governments to internationalisation, he added.
“What we have is a description of the policies but what we really need to understand is the reality of the operating environments. It needs to be about what governments do, and not just about what they say. I think the same goes for us in our universities.”