Cold, costly but cutting edge education

The recruitment of international students has become a lucrative business in countries like the US, the UK and Australia. In the UK they are estimated to bring in about 4 billion pounds a year to British universities and some 10 billion to the economy as a whole. With the aging of the population, the UK is worried about the (financial) future of its universities. Non EU international students can be charged higher fees and are therefore seen as a potential solution to these financial problems.

There are now over 300,000 foreign students demand from international students stagnated in 2005, rising just 0.3% compared to the year before. This can be partly attributed to increased global competition but also to the growth of the higher education systems in China and India. Due to these factors the projected amount of international students (850,000 in 2020) has become a difficult target.

To remain competitive in the market, the UK needs to have a competitive advantage over other competitors. In a BBC article, Dr Tim Westlake, director of international development at Manchester University seems to agree:

“At present, the international student market is dominated by English-speaking countries. The global dominance of the English language has given the UK, the USA, and Australia a real competitive edge.”

But then the question becomes: how do these countries compete with each other? According to Dr Westlake, the unique selling points will have to be the quality of UK degrees and the quality of the student experience. And the unique selling points of the US and Australia? Apparently not quality but:

“…the sunshine and beaches of Australia and the low cost of living of the USA”

Lisbon and Washington

A bit over a week ago, President Bush has delivered his State of the Union. Last Wednesday, the Budget for 2007 was presented. In both, the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) played an important role. The ACI sets the following goals:

  • 300 grants for schools to implement research-based math curricula and interventions
  • 10,000 more scientists, students, post-doctoral fellows, and technicians provided opportunities to contribute to the innovation enterprise
  • 100,000 highly qualified math and science teachers by 2015
  • 700,000 advanced placement tests passed by low-income students
  • 800,000 workers getting the skills they need for the jobs of the 21st century

140 business, political and educational leaders have instantly taken action and expressed their opinion:

“Thirty-one college presidents and chancellors are among the 140 business, political, and educational leaders who have endorsed an advertisement appearing in today’s issues of The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal that urges readers to help keep America the driving force in innovation.”

The ACI can be seen as the US version of the European Union’s Lisbon Strategy. The Lisbon Strategy’s goal was to become “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-driven economy by 2010”. The main issues for the realisation of the Lisbon agenda were:

  • the necessary investment in R&D, that is three per cent of GDP;
  • reduction of red tape to promote entrepreneurship;
  • achieving an employment rate of 70 per cent (60 per cent for women)

After an evaluation by former Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok, the strategy was re-launched in 2005. More focus on growth and employment, simplification and national ownership via national action plans are the key elements to re-launch the Lisbon reforms agenda.

Comparing the two strategies exposes the problem of the EU (at least in this field of innovation). The USA can establish hard quantitative targets to which it can be held accountable. The United States of Europe sets targets but cannot enforce implementation. Also, in the US, leaders around the nation form a coalition to see to it that things get done. In Europe, leaders from around the continent gather, write, gather, write, establish a compromise that everyone can live with and then hope that things get done.

Either increase European authority on these issues or stop formulating, evaluating and re-launching strategies.

Anyone but the King

Thailand is one of the countries in Southeast Asia that has shown rapid development. Economically it has done very well. It recovered relatively easily from the financial crisis in 1997 and is showing good progress in recovering from the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. It has liberalised in terms of trade, but it has also become more open politically.But of course there is one thing that you cannot do, and that is to criticise King Bhumibol. The Chronicle reports:

The government of Thailand has blocked access in that country to the Web site of Yale University Press. The move is in response to the site’s publicity material for The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej, a book in which the author criticizes the king of Thailand.The government will also ban importation of the biography, which Yale is to publish in July. At various times after an initial blockage of the Web site earlier this month, parts of it were viewable within Thailand. Now access is fully censored, with a notice that reads: This Web site has been blocked by Cyber Inspector, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology.

Higher Education, the GATS and the Convention on the High Seas

In recent years there has been a lot of debate on how higher education world-wide will be affected by the General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS; a treaty within the WTO framework). The GATS makes a distinction between four different modes of supply of services:

  1. Cross-border supply is defined to cover services flows from the territory of one Member into the territory of another Member (e.g. distance education programmes offered abroad);
  2. Consumption abroad refers to situations where a service consumer (e.g. students go to another country to complete a programme);
  3. Commercial presence implies that a service supplier of one Member establishes a territorial presence, including through ownership or lease of premises, in another Member’s territory to provide a service (e.g. a university established a branch campus abroad);
  4. Presence of natural persons consists of persons of one Member entering the territory of another Member to supply a service (e.g. academics teaching a course in another country).

It is not entirely clear how the GATS will restrict governments in making policies for their national higher education systems and in giving preferential treatment for their citizens. In the liberalization of services in the EU common market, this has also led to discussions. Among other things, this has led to a uniform tuition rate for students from EU countries The fees may be different in different countries, but within countries they have to be the same for domestic students and other EU students).

The GATS raises a lot of questions. To what extent is national funding of higher education a government subsidy, and should suppliers from other countries (i.c. foreign universities) then receive the same support (a commitment to national treatment implies that the Member concerned does not operate discriminatory measures benefiting domestic services or service suppliers). Under Article II of the GATS, Members are held to extend immediately and unconditionally to services or services suppliers of all other Members treatment no less favourable than that accorded to like services and services suppliers of any other country (the so-called MFN or Most Favored Nation principle).

But have universities found a way around the GATS? Inside Higher-Ed (Sailing Around the Flat World) has a report on a new mode of supply: the Scholar Ship, a collaboration between Royal Caribbean Cruises and six foreign universities.

The program is a corporate subsidiary of Royal Caribbean, and the academic programs will be led by Macquarie University in Australia. The maiden voyage of the ship — which will have libraries and lecture halls where the casinos and ballrooms were — will be in January 2007.
Students, who will be taught primarily in English, will pay $19,500 for the classes and cruise, and will have eight port stops as they circumnavigate the globe, beginning and ending in Athens.

I guess most of the time will be spent in the (non-territorial) high seas. As far as I can see (although I am all but an expert on legal issues) this mode of supply of educational services does not fall under any of the 4 categories. Truly de-nationalised, global education        

Science Dollars, Shekels, Rand and Reals

A newsfeed from the Science and Development Network brought me to this article on science spending. The article is based on the UNESCO Science Report 2005. We have heard a lot of talk about how Asia is catching up with Europe in terms of spending on R&D and Science. In the case of science spending, Asia has already overtaken Europe, mainly due to China’s increase in spending on science.

It says that from 1997 to 2002, Asian funding from public and private sources rose by four per cent, enabling Asia to account for 32 per cent of global research spending. In those five years, China’s share of global spending more than doubled, from four to nine per cent. Meanwhile, the Latin America and the Caribbean region’s share of the global total fell from 3.1 per cent to 2.6 per cent. Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa contributed just 0.1 per cent of the global total

But what probably surprised me more were the figures on the spending per researcher. This number is very low for the Asian states of the former Soviet Union: US$ 8,900. The average spending per researcher in OECD countries is US$ 191,900, while for the United States this is US$ 230,000 and for the EU the number is US$177,000. Most surprising are the countries that spend most per researcher:

1. Israel US$ 661,000
2. South Africa US$ 357,600
3. Brazil US$ 238,000

I can image that the high numbers in Israel (and in the US) are somehow related to military spending (this table shows that Israel and the US also rank 1st and 2nd in gross expenditure on R&D per inhabitant: 922 resp. 1005 US$ per inhabitant). But why do Brazil and especially South Africa spent so much money per researcher?