Archive for the 'Internationalisation' Category

Mobility Stats: Mapping Mobility & Open Doors

Posted by Eric on November 15th, 2010

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Two international education organisations, Nuffic from the Netherlands and the Washington based Institute of International Education (IIE) published their international student mobility statistics this week. While Open Doors is being published by IIE already since 1948, the Nuffic publication – Mapping Mobility – was published for the first time in 2010. Although Nuffic published international education statistics before, this is the first one solely focused on higher education.

Growth

One finding of the Open Doors report was that the influx of international students into the US continued to grow modestly. Compared to the year before, there were 3% more international students coming to the US for the purpose of study (the vast majority for a full degree). The number of foreign students studying for a full undergraduate or graduate degree in the US (excluding non degree students) in 2009/10 was 568,316. This was almost 3% of the total student population.

In the Netherlands they witnessed a slightly higher growth. In 2009/10, there were 47,226 international degree students in the Netherlands, up 6.3% compared to the year before. Considering that the total student population also increased in the Netherlands, the percentage of foreign students remained stable at 7.4% of the total student population.

If we compare the growth rates between the US and the Netherlands in the past five years, we can observe a growth of over 40% in the Netherlands since 2005-6 and in the US a growth of 15%. (Data based on Table D in fast facts Open Doors and Diagram 06 in Mapping Mobility)

Countries of Origin

Other interesting dynamics are revealed if we look at the countries of origin. We can conclude that the growth in the US in the past year has been caused almost solely by the Chinese international student population. The number of Chinese students in the US increased by almost 30%, now accounting for almost a fifth of the international students in the US. The Netherlands however is much more dependent on a single nation. Germany remains the main source country for foreign students in the Netherlands, now accounting for 44% of all students. The table below shows the main source countries of the US and the Netherlands.

source

Destinations

Not surprisingly, the main destinations of these students are institutions of the Dutch border region with Germany. The University of Maastricht tops the list, followed by four universities of applied science in the southern, central and northern provinces bordering with Germany. In the US this obviously shows a much more dispersed pattern. Most internationalised institutions here are the University of Southern California, the University of Illinois (Urbana Champaign), New York University, Purdue and Colombia.

Framing International Education

Posted by Eric on October 23rd, 2010

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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…

Regulating recruitment agencies

Posted by Eric on September 13th, 2010

Study abroad for a full degree has developed from an elite to a mass phenomenon. Parallel to this development, we have witnessed a commercialization of international higher education where many institutions have become financially dependent on full fee paying international students. To operate in this (global) market, institutions – and especially the lesser-known ones – now frequently turn to agents and recruiters in order to attract prospective students. Many point to the risks of these third party agents and plea for more regulation or even abolishment.

Abolish or regulate? In Inside Higher Ed, Philip Altbach, the Director of the Center for International Higher Education sheds his light on this issue. His viewpoint is clear and unambiguous: “Agents and recruiters are impairing academic standards and integrity — and it’s time for colleges and universities to stop using them.”

These agents recruit prospective students and provide general information, but – according to Altbach – in reality they are also making offers to students or actually admit students, often based on murky qualifications (even though the colleges that hire them say that they still control admissions).

Some initiatives have appeared in the United States with the objective to regulate this ‘new profession’ but these organisations lack powers to monitor compliance or discipline violators. The solution Altbach provides is simple: abolish them! After all, they have no legitimate role in higher education.

Dutch Self regulation

In the Netherlands, the institutions have chosen self-regulation as the prime instrument for managing (the excesses of) international recruitment. The sector-wide ‘code of conduct’ sets out standards for Dutch higher education institutions in their dealings with international students. One chapter in this code of conduct (pdf) deals with the use of agents. The provisions in this chapter stipulate that agents have to act in the spirit of the code and clarifies the responsibilities of the agents and those of the higher education institutions. One of the starting points is that admission remains the responsibility of the institutions and that institutions have to take action immediately in the case of unethical behavior.

This way of dealing with the risks of student recruitment (in an increasingly commercialized market) is somewhat comparable to the method of self-accreditation or ‘accreditation lite’ in the United States. Altbach criticized this method because of the lack of powers in the case of non-compliance.

Other solutions?

In some of the comments below the Inside Higher Ed article, Altbach’s view is portrayed as elitist. Prestigious American schools like Boston College might not need such recruiting agencies. But what about less prestigious universities? What about the ones that are not part of the Ivy League, the Russell Group or the Group of 8? Maybe, these institutions do need professional assistance in reaching prospective international students.

For these institutions, abolishment might not be acceptable. In addition, it remains the question whether all of these agents are rogue operators? Is Altbach’s opinion also valid for agents in other parts of the world? Or is this phenomenon only apparent in the more commercially higher education sectors (Altbach is mainly referring to the USA, Australia and the UK)?

Either way, even if the number of malicious operators would be small, some form of regulation might be necessary to protect the numerous international students who are about to invest a lot of money into their future. Should we let the market do its work or does this sector need government protection? Or is there enough trust in the higher education institutions (and in the majority of the agents) and should we apply soft instruments like codes of conduct and other forms of self-regulation?

Nuffic International Education Monitor

Posted by Eric on September 6th, 2010

The Nuffic (The Netherlands Organisation for International Cooperation in Higher Education; whic also happens to be my current employer) has launched its Nuffic International Education Monitor today. I’m sure this will be a valauable tool for many international educators, higher education/international education researchers and others interested in the international dimension of higher ed.

The monitor tracks developments in almost 50 countries all over the world. It provides up-to-date country information and explores core themes in international higher education. It provides you with a selection of the news on international higher education, categorised thematically in seven dossiers and categorised by country. It also gives a daily selection of the most interesting international news and Dutch news. Furthermore, it presents monthly overviews of Dutch, European and international policy initiatives and a list of future conferences.

The monitor also features a blog on international higher education issues. Being one of the blog contributors, I will also cross post my own contributions here. Some forthcoming issues in the Nuffic Blog are: foreign backed universities, regulation of recruiting agents, Russia-Dutch scientific cooperation, mobility statistics and many others…

Let them know what you think of it!

Recognition and Mobility in the Bologna Process

Posted by Eric on March 11th, 2010

Today and tomorrow, the anniversary of the Bologna Process is celebrated. Actually…it is celebrated by most and protested against by some. A consortium of CHEPS, INCHER and ECOTEC was given the task to prepare an independent assessment of the Bologna process. The study was conducted together with experts from the University of Bath, the Bayerisches Staatsinstitut für Hochschulforschung and NUFFIC (i.c. myself). Below is Don Westerheijden (CHEPS) presenting the part of the assessment I’ve been working on: recognition and mobility.

The report is published by the European Commission and can be found here (pdf). Today’s programme was in Budapest; tomorrow, the rest of the programme is brought to you from Vienna. Watch the live stream here.

The global higher education market

Posted by Eric on January 3rd, 2009

The last edition of the Economist in 2008 included an interesting article on the growth of international education. International education has witnessed an enormous growth in the past decade, a growth that comes with risks and benefits for both developed and developing countries.

The 20th century saw a surge in higher education; in the early 21st century, the idea of going abroad to study has become thinkable for ordinary students. In 2006, the most recent year for which figures are available, nearly 3m were enrolled in higher education institutions outside their own countries, a rise of more than 50% since 2000.

The article emphasises the risks of international education, illustrated by the examples of Australia and the UK as receiving countries (the risks of over-commercialisation) and China as one of the main sending countries (the risks of brain drain). But fortunately, the benefits of international education education are not neglected. Read the rest of the article here.

Foreign Students and the Global Competition for Talent

Posted by Eric on October 13th, 2008

The OECD recently published a very interesting report on skilled migration and the diffusion of knowledge: The Global Competition for Talent: Mobility of the Highly Skilled. This publication can be seen as a follow-up of the 2002 report International Mobility of the Highly Skilled. Here’s a short summary of the summary:

“International mobility of human resources in science and technology is of growing importance and can have important impacts on knowledge creation and diffusion in both receiving and sending countries indicating that it is not necessarily a zero-sum game.

41362960talent Receiving countries benefit from a variety of positive effects related to knowledge flows and R&D. But sending countries can also experience positive effects. Much of the literature on highly skilled emigration focuses on remittances and brain drain but emigration of skilled workers can also spur human capital accumulation in the sending country. Brain circulation stimulates knowledge flows and builds links between locations. Diaspora networks can function as a conduit in these migration flows so that all countries can benefit.

Most OECD countries are net beneficiaries of highly skilled migration but there are significant variations. Students are increasingly mobile as well and often leads to skilled migration, both short and long term migration. Some evidence suggests that immigrant HRST (Human Resources in Science and Technology) contribute strongly to innovation.”

Skilled migration is an increasingly important rationale for the higher education internationalisation policies of national governments (and of the European Union as well). In this global competition for talent, Australia and Canada have  actively linked the recruitment of foreign students to their skilled migration policies. This approach is also increasingly chosen by European countries. Particularly in the science and technology related fields, skill shortages are becoming apparent and the benefits of (cultural) diversity for innovation are recognised.

And if you need a highly skilled and diverse body of professionals, why not start with foreign students? At Nuffic we recently published an appeal for an increased attention for internationalisation. In this appeal, the skilled migration approach is clearly apparent (see here for the Dutch booklet, or here for the English translation). Obviously, we are of the opinion that such policies should not come at the expense of developing countries…

The new OECD report shows again that such policies can create benefits for both the sending and receiving countries. This goes in  particular for emerging economies where the opportunities for brain circulation are present. Other studies – like this world bank report – show that it are the least developed countries that suffer most from the brain drain because brain circulation does not occur in these countries. Here, skilled migration policies should be accompanied by compensating and mitigating policies for the sending countries (see this CGD publication for some ideas on this issue).

Last week, at Global HigherEd, Peter Jones reported on a forthcoming European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling in the case of Jacqueline Förster v IB-Groep. This is one of a range of recent cases handled by the ECJ that might have substantial effects for higher education policies throughout Europe.

In a forthcoming paper for the European Journal of Education I identified the ECJ as one of the main actors in the institutionalisation of the European Higher Education Area. In earlier posts in this blog I discussed recent cases on the German medicine students in Austria and French students in Belgium. In both cases, the principle of non-discrimination plays an important role. The same was the case for the Grzelczyk Case and the Bidar Case, which can be seen as a predecessor of the Förster case.

The Grzelczyk judgment suggests that EU students are entitled to claim maintenance grants when they find themselves in the same situation as nationals of the host Member State. Before the Maastricht Treaty, the Court refused the right to obtain loans and grants while studying in another member state. The Bidar Case changed this. Here, the Court argues that it is legitimate for a host Member State to grant such assistance to students who have demonstrated a certain degree of integration into the society of that State (although the Court made clear that Member States have a right to protect themselves against ‘grant-tourism’).

This ‘certain degree of integration’ is now being tested in the Förster Case. German student Jaqueline Förster went to the Netherlands to study in 2000. She did the minimum number of hours of work in order to be eligible for the Dutch student support. This amount of work apparently provided a substantial enough degree of integration. The Dutch scholarship board initially granted the student aid to her but asked for a partial refund in 2005 because Förster had not worked in the second half of 2003. She took the case to court saying the move was discriminatory as Dutch students do not have to work (see also this article in EU Observer).

An additional issue came up in the Netherlands after Nuffic presented its annual mobility monitor. This showed that the outgoing number of students was lower for the Netherlands than the incoming students and that the largest source of incoming students was Germany. While at least 16,750 German students were enrolled in the Netherlands, only 2,100 Dutch students were enrolled in Germany. A few days later, the ‘Dutch equivalent of the Financial Times’ carried a headline saying that German students cost the Dutch government at least one hundred million Euros. Reason for this is of course the fact that – because of the non-discrimination principle – EU universities can not charge higher tuition fees for foreign EU students than they charge for their own students. Considering Dutch higher education is still heavily subsidised by the government, German students are indeed partially funded by Dutch tax payers money.

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Is the UK going Down Under?

Posted by Eric on June 18th, 2008

During my years in Sydney, the issue of language skills and foreign students has come up repeatedly. The claim was that the financial reliance on foreign students had forced Australian higher education to accept students that lack even the basic English language and communication skills.

Most critical on this issue is probably Bob Birrell, Director of the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University in Melbourne. Last year he published a study finding that one in three overseas students which were granted permanent residency after graduating from an Australian university does not have good enough English to handle a professional job.

An analysis of government visa testing, the first of its kind, found 34 per cent of 12,116 graduating international students who received permanent residency in 2005-06 did not have the English standard needed to be admitted to university, let alone to be awarded a degree. For students from China, the fastest growing international student market for Australian universities, the proportion with poor English leapt to 43 per cent.

The question is of course: how did they get into an Australian university anyway? And even more: how did they ever get a degree? With respect to the second question, Birrell claims that universities dealt with the poor English language skills of their students by lowering teaching and assessment standards. On the question of how they get in, Birrell has another explanation.

Applicants for a higher-education student visa must score at band-six level, rated as “competent”, under the International English Language Testing System, if based overseas when they apply. But international applicants can avoid the testing by basing themselves in Australia earlier to complete either year 12 or an intensive language course. Dr Birrell found that about 40 per cent of overseas students followed this path.

Professor Peter Abelson – a visiting scholar at the University of Sydney at that time – summarised the issue correctly:

“These figures are a very stunning result, but not entirely surprising to people who are in tertiary education.”

Former Minister of Education, Julie Bishop, and former president of the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee Gerard Sutton basically denied the problems. Sutton didn’t accept that there is a problem in universities in terms of soft marking of international students. Julie Bishop rejected claims that a large number of foreign students graduating from Australian universities have poor English skills:

“Australian universities only enroll foreign students once they have achieved international standards of language proficiency. This has been an extraordinary attack by Professor Birrell on our universities. International students must meet international benchmarks in English language in order to get a place at a university in Australia.”

The denial of the problem is astonishing. Yes of course, there is a lot of money involved and the stakes in international education are high. If the international student market would plummet, so would much of the Australian higher education sector. But denying the problem while more and more foreign graduates fail in their job search because of their language skills, does obviously not help in the long run.

And now the debate has moved up north…

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International Student Tribes and Territories

Posted by Eric on March 19th, 2008

As you might know, I changed countries and positions in the last month, hence my lack of posts (now and probably in the very near future). As some of you might know, I left academia to work at the Nuffic, the Netherlands Organisation for International Cooperation in Higher Education. This week I started in the department of studies of their Knowledge and Innovation Directorate. One issue I’m currently looking at is the way foreign students choose their preferred study destinations. Market research organisation i-Graduate seems to have found all my answers already… or hasn’t it?

The Guardian reports on a study that looks at what motivates international students to study abroad and what influences their choice of study. I haven’t seen the study and I can’t link to it because it is not available on their website, but looking at the article of the Guardian, it seems to be a case of over-simplification and over-generalisation. According to i-Graduate, the international student population can be divided into five tribes:

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So where the bloody hell are you?

Posted by Eric on February 5th, 2008

I’m not sure whether this is a bad thing for education or for tourism. The Australian reports that education has replaced tourism as Australia’s biggest services export and has become the country’s third top export overall, increasing by 21 per cent in 2007 to AUD 12.5 billion. The Australian Bureau of Statistics released figures that show that revenue generated by foreign students in this country overtook tourism and was just behind coal and iron ore. I remember that – when I became interested in international education about eight years ago – Australians used to say that it was the fifth or sixth biggest export, up there between lamb and wool.

When you read the words of Tony Pollock, chief executive of IDP Education, you wonder when Australia will start using the slogan of its tourism campaign in promoting higher education. Pollock states in the Australian:

“Education is a bigger drawcard for visitors to Australia than Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef and all other tourist attractions put together. Nearly half a million people are living in Australia who would not be here if we stopped educating international students.”

I am getting rather skeptical about all these ‘successes’ of the Australian international (higher) education industry. I guess there’s a saturation point even in the education sector, and Australian education is close to reaching that point. And at some institutions that point was already crossed quite some time ago. Have a look for instance at this Australian documentary with the title that says it all: The Degree Factories.

After 9/11 the number of international students in the US dropped considerably due stricter visa requirements and security regulations. Just now that the US is relaxing the regulations, the Netherlands seems to become more restrictive towards international students, at least those from specific countries.

My former university – the University of Twente – this week announced that they had rejected a number of Iranian students and that they will not be able to process new applications from Iranian students. Is the University of Twente (UT) getting paranoid? No! They are acting according to a United Nations resolution and a following decision by the Dutch Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They had requested universities to give a formal guarantee that the Iranian visa applicants do not have access to certain specific scientific knowledge (read: nuclear knowledge). UT’s president explained:

Students have the right to attend all courses and they should be able to develop freely. We don’t want to exclude students from education and therefore we cannot give the guarantee that the Ministries of Education and Foreign Affairs demand from us. (…) As a university we cannot exclude the possibility that Iranians will be exposed to nuclear knowledge. We can’t control that.

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Realizing the Global University

Posted by Eric on November 17th, 2007

What defines a global ‘superpower’? In the past, it was the size of national armies or possession of nuclear weapons. But now there is a more important (and peaceful) benchmark: the size and prestige of university systems. And, while the US is still the global higher education ‘superpower’, China will soon be knocking it off top spot if current trends continue.

…a dramatic insight into just how rapidly China is moving in the higher education race… anything anyone in the West can easily imagine… a wake-up call to universities and governments around the world…The UK is in danger of slipping back…

So states a report of BBC news, with the alarming title China’s bid for world domination. A bit over the top if you ask me. The rise of India and China as doom scenarios for the future competitiveness of developed nations: an image frequently used by current university leaders to appeal to their national governments and ask for additional funding. And by the media to spice up a story.

WUN_membersThat being said… the BBC report is based on presentations of a recent conference of the Worldwide Universities Network, a partnership of 17 research-led universities from Europe, North America, China and Australia. In my view, it’s one of the most active networks of its kind, with many activities in the field of research cooperation, research mobility, e-learning and the organisation of virtual seminars and many other events.

Also in the field of higher education there has been quite some cooperation. There have been initiatives like ‘Constructing Knowledge Spaces’, concerned with researching and theorising the globalisation of education, the ‘Ideas & Universities‘ project and the ‘Network Horizons Virtual Seminar Series‘ of 2006. Cooperation between Wisconsin and Bristol has even led to a new addition to the higher education blogosphere.

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Malaysia as an Education Hub

Posted by Eric on May 28th, 2007

The UNSW debacle in Singapore and the exit of Johns Hopkins last year, have dealt a serious blow to the Global Schoolhouse strategy of the Singapore government. Singapore’s neighbor Malaysia announced a similar strategy last year. With this strategy, Malaysia becomes one of the most interesting examples of the way that higher education is globalizing nowadays. A major exporter as well as importer of higher education, with foreign universities within its borders and Malay universities establishing branches outside Malaysia.

First of all, Malaysia has long been sending many of their students and university staff abroad, especially for postgraduate studies, because their own system could not absorb the increase of students in the last decades. In addition, the racial quota for public universities to enroll Malay forced a lot of students from Chinese and Indian backgrounds to pursue their higher education abroad. The last decade has seen a sharp rise in private universities and colleges that have been able to absorb many of these students and the Malay that were not accepted in the public sector. Despite this, the flow of Malaysian students abroad – especially to the English speaking countries – has remained substantial (see table).

Malaysian students abroad 1999-2004

In addition to sending students abroad to pursue their education, the Malaysian government has also admitted higher education institutions into Malaysia in order to meet the increasing demand of higher education in the country. The establishment of such branch campuses has to fulfill a wide range of legal requirement (on ownership issues, but also on the content of education), but this has not kept universities from establishing these branches. The best known examples are Monash University, Curtin and Swinburne from Australia and Nottingham University from the UK. Although these partnerships were usually based on so-called sandwich programmes (where part was done in the home country of the university), they now also offer full degrees in Malaysia.

But in recent years, both the flows of students as well as the flows of institutions are no longer one way but now go both ways. Although public universities in Malaysia do not undertake activities abroad – and probably they are not allowed to – the private ones seem to become more and more active. You can now actually obtain a Malaysian degree in London, offered by the Lim Kok Wing University, well known in Malaysia for its IT and Design programmes. And this university is not just a little office somewhere in London but is established in a beautiful old English building. But Lim Kok Wing did not stop in London. It’s also the first Asian university to establish a branch campus in Africa, in Botswana to be precise. Recently, other education institutions are following and are also expanding abroad.

And now the Malaysian government wants to make Malaysia a true education hub for the region, more or less like its southern neighbor. The Ministry of Higher Education has set a target of 100,000 students for 2010. Growth will probably mainly be sought in the region and in the Middle East. Together with Singapore, Malaysia probably offers the best quality higher education in Southeast Asia, although Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia are catching up. Due to language (and cultural/religious) issues, Malaysia is popular for Indonesian students, especially for those that cannot get into the local public universities in Indonesia and cannot afford the top private ones or higher education abroad. For Chinese students Malaysia might be popular because of the widespread Chinese influences in Malay society, more apparent though in the private institutions than in the public ones. More recently, especially after 9-11, Malaysia has also become a popular destination for Middle Eastern students. Yesterday, the Star reported on an agreement between Higher Education Minister Datuk Mustapa Mohamed and his Saudi counterpart Dr Khaled Mohamed Al-Anqari on sending the Saudi students to Malaysian universities(*). In addition to the Middle East, students coming from Africa (especially Libya, Sudan and Kenya) are also on the rise (see table; click to enlarge).

Foreign Students in Malaysia 1999-2003

To reach the goal of 100,000 international students, the government will need to double the intake of foreign students. There are obviously pros and cons to a strategy like this. For many, a first reaction would be to ask why a government wants to increase the number of international students if it barely has the capacity to meet the demand of its own people? On the other hand, it can generate extra financial resources (if the fees for foreign students are profitable) by which the education of the Malaysian population can be supported. Obviously creating more multicultural campus will also have more intangible positive effects. And the quality of education can increase if these foreign students will be of such quality that they will positively influence the academic atmosphere and quality in the universities. And of course there are the economic effects through spending and consumption from the students and through the new jobs that are created for such an expanding higher education sector.

So…should the Singapore case make the Malaysian government nervous? Maybe not yet, but they better keep an eye on the developments in their neighboring city state. Malaysia’s plans are not as ambitious as Singapore’s ‘grand’ strategies and they are less dependent on foreign providers than is the case in Singapore. But I hope they will not become obsessed with the projected number of 100,000, and instead just focus on the overall quality of their higher education. Then the foreign students will follow automatically…

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(*) A small footnote…not directly related but important enough to mention.

Saudi government officials have been traveling the world for the past months in order to find ‘a conducive environment’ for their students to study. Especially because it was getting harder for them to get visas in the UK and the US. I remember that one of their officials visited Australian campuses as well, in order to ‘ínspect’ the universities here. I have not heard anything about this issue since…maybe the Australian culture was not considered very conducive by these government leaders, that always know best what is good for ‘their’ citizens…

But even Malaysia was not perfect. Saudi female students had specific requirements: “They have to travel with their chaperone who are either their male family members or husbands, so visas can be a problem. Another issue is dressing – some female students want to keep their faces covered.” The Minister said he would look into these issues… Covering the faces is not allowed in Malaysian public universities. And I think universities shouldn’t change their values just to benefit more from the international higher education market. Believe me, I work in Australia, so I should know!

Bologna in London

Posted by Eric on May 22nd, 2007

The Fifth Ministerial Conference on the Bologna Process – a bi-annual event where the progress of the Bologna Process is monitored and new actions are decided upon – took place in London last week. This basically means a bombardment of papers, reports and speeches about what’s been going on and what needs to be done, coming from everyone that is somehow related to higher education. All this has culminated in the London Communique (pdf).

I haven’t had the time to go through all the documents yet, but the Communique does’nt seem to hold many surprises (which is not surprising of course for an inter-governmental document set up by over 40 countries). I did however read about an interesting option by Franck Vandenbroucke (in Dutch), Flemish minister of education and host for the Sixth Conference in 2009. He argues that the difference between the late and early adopters of the Bologna principles is too wide and that it is better for the early staters to explore the next frontiers for European cooperation, instead of waiting for the rest to catch up.

Euractiv has an article about the different perspectives on the outcome of the 5th Ministerial Conference. Here’s my interpretation:

The European Union:

We want universities to be liberated from the shackles of state domination (you’ll be better of with us)!

European Students:

It’s all about us so you better take us seriously! Or else…

European Universities:

If you give us more freedom and more money we will give you whatever you want (and pay for)

European Business:

Actually, we have no clue what we want so we’ll just repeat that we want your graduates to be interdisciplinary, process oriented and adaptable problem solvers that can work in teams. You figure it out…

The Brits:

We should all adopt similar standards… preferably the British ones

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