Framing International Education


Ten days ago or so, I was in Sydney for the annual Australian International Education Conference. I’ve seen some very interesting presentations here, some real eye-openers. I’ll discuss some specific sessions here later (I’ll wait until the presentations are available on the website). Now I just want to share some general impressions.

Most remarkable for me was that the economic framing of international education now seems to be widely accepted. When I lived in Sydney some years ago, my perception was that the government and parts of university management occasionally dropped terms like the ‘education industry’ and ‘higher education exports’. This was really the language of the marketeers and the recruiters.

Nowadays this language has spread throughout the universities and even the international educators themselves have adopted the language. Should we perceive this as conscious, strategic behavior on their part? Is the framing in economic terms an attempt to convince governmental leaders to invest more in higher education because of its strategic economic importance?

In the Netherlands, national governments explicitly frame international education as a quality issue. International education is to be pursued because it improves the quality of Dutch higher education. On the other hand, the income from full fee paying international students have now become a necessary resource for Dutch institutions as well (and especially for some departments or programs).

Does it matter how we frame it? Or is it always about the bottom line anyway? I think it does matter. In framing international education as an export product, as an economic commodity, the recruitment of students becomes the dominant issue. As a result, recruitment and the image of Australia as an education provider have become the dominant issues in Australian international education. But of course, we all know there is so much more to international education…