Archive for the 'Mobility' Category

Mobility Stats: Mapping Mobility & Open Doors

Posted by Eric on November 15th, 2010


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.


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.



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.

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?

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).

US PhD’s & Chinese Alma Maters

Posted by Eric on July 15th, 2008

Now here is an interesting fact. I knew that the United States was becoming ever more dependent on foreign PhD students, especially in the so-called STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). I also knew that an increasing proportion of them come from Asia, and China in particular. But this article in Science surprised me nonetheless:

A new study has found that the most likely undergraduate alma mater for those who earned a Ph.D. in 2006 from a U.S. university was … Tsinghua University. Peking University, its neighbor in the Chinese capital, ranks second. Between 2004 and 2006, those two schools overtook the University of California, Berkeley, as the most fertile training ground for U.S. Ph.D.s (see graph). South Korea’s Seoul National University occupies fourth place behind Berkeley, followed by Cornell University and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.











HT: Nanopolitan

Legrain on immigrants

Posted by Eric on February 27th, 2007

Tonight I attended a lecture (in the Sydney Ideas Series) from Philippe Legrain on his latest book: Immigrants: your country needs them. It was also the occasion of his Sydney book launch but luckily – in this open world – I ordered the book a month ago from the UK (and thereby avoided the high Australian book prices).


Legrain’s lecture will be available on the University of Sydney podcasts site, but here’s a short impression of both book and lecture. In short, Legrain’s message is: Let them in! Because it’s better for ‘Us’ and it’s better for ‘Them’ and for the countries where ‘They’ come from. Being trained as an economist at LSE in London, it’s not surprising that this message is very much based on economic rationales.

Many countries already have accepted the belief that allowing highly skilled migrants to enter the country is a necessity in order to survive in the current global knowledge economy. Legrain first of all argues that rigid and bureacratic assessment systems – like used in Australia – don’t make any sense since governments simply don’t know what the labour market needs will be in the future. Furthermore, innovation can not be attributed to specific types of people, but requires diversity and creativity.

What is more provacative is Legrain’s compelling case for immigration of low skilled workers. Because ‘we’ not just need managers, but also cleaners and taxi drivers and since ‘We’ don’t want to do these jobs anymore, and ‘They’ do, we should let ‘Them’ in. And of course there are plenty of humanitarian reasons to do so as well.

Obviously, the immigrants themselves will benefit if western countries open their borders to legal immigration. But so do the countries where they come from, both through the skills that the immigrants return if they go back and through the remittances they send home. These remittances make up between 200 and 600 billion US$ and end up right in the pockets of the people that need it most. Compare this with the 80 billion US$ in development assistance, which might end up in the wrong pockets (or Swiss bank accounts).

While reading the book I frequently agreed with Legrain’s economic arguments, but I kept asking myself: what about the friction between the ‘Us’ and the ‘Them’ after ‘They’ immigrate, so apparent especially after 9/11. In the last few chapters Legrain does address the issue, especially for the cases of the Latinos in the US and the Muslims in Europe (he especially addresses the problems in France, Germany and the Netherlands).

I often had the feeling that I was not the one that needed convincing; the people in inner city London, Amsterdam, New York or Sydney are not the ones that needed convincing. And I am afraid that the ones he has to convince are not very receptive to these arguments. I think I agree with Roy Williams’ conclusion in The Australian:

“These are lofty ideals, yet most people in the West remain old-fashioned nationalists. They love their country viscerally and as it is, or as it was when they were younger. Rightly or wrongly, they view immigration with caution, even regret.”

I hope that Legrain’s book will at least make people think twice about all the myths (and political rhetoric?) surrounding the issue of immigration. The book is definitely worth a read!

Greek resistance

Posted by Eric on February 2nd, 2007

More than six thousand students and academics marched through the centre of Athens last night to oppose government plans to reform the country’s higher education system and allow private universities to operate in Greece.

The protests reflect the rising tension over the reforms proposed by government, which would break a major taboo in Greece by allowing private universities to operate under state supervision and to issue state-recognized degrees. Academic staff began a three-day strike Wednesday, and have threatened open-ended strikes from next week. State primary and secondary school teachers held a sympathy work stoppage. The protest has become a weekly march to the Greek parliament against the planned reform. The protesters vowed to keep coming back until the bill was scrapped.
The Australian reports:

The protests have crippled the country’s tertiary education system, with more than 300 university departments closed due to student sit-in protests against the bill before the busy February exam period. “I do not care if I miss my exams because of these protests,” student Marina Iosifidou said. “There is a higher goal here and that is to keep state education in public hands and cost free.”

Maybe this student and her fellow protestors should think twice before rejecting the option of allowing private universities to operate in Greece. After all…they need them!

(click here to enlarge)

Greek higher education is very dependent on the UK higher education system, having over 20,000 students in the UK (see table above). Here, students pay (high) tuition fees to be able to attend higher education, which they cannot get in their own country. In addition, Greece sends about 20,000 students to other countries in the EU, making it the largest importer of higher education in Europe. Maybe allowing other (private) universities in the country isn’t such a bad idea after all…

More Europeanisation

Posted by Eric on January 28th, 2007

On the 24th of January, a so-called ‘letter of formal notice‘ has been sent by the European Commission to the governments of Austria and Belgium. The letter concerns the ‘Europeanisation by stealth’ that I have addressed before here for the case of Austria and here for the case of Belgium. These governments thought they found a solution for the high influx of foreign students (respectively German and French) in some of their universities.

European law – Article 12 of the EC Treaty – prohibits discrimination on the basis of nationality. In Austria, they thought they found a way to circumvent European law by discriminating not on the basis of nationality (which was addressed by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in July 2005) but on the basis of the location where students obtained their secondary education. Now it seems that the Commission considers that Austria has still not complied with the ECJ’s ruling:

“In the case of Austria, this is a follow-up to the judgement of the European Court of Justice in July 2005. The Austrian legislation had required that the holders of secondary education diplomas from other Member States had to prove that they have met conditions governing access to the higher education in their home country (e.g. passing the entrance exams). The Court held that Austria’s legislation discriminated against holders of secondary education diplomas awarded in another Member State, since they could not gain access to Austrian higher education under the same conditions as holders of the equivalent Austrian diploma (Article 12, 149, 150 of the EC Treaty). As regards a possible justification of such discrimination, the ECJ stated in particular that Austria “failed to demonstrate that … the existence of the Austrian education system in general and the safeguarding of the homogeneity of higher education in particular would be jeopardized”, in the absence of restrictive measures, by the number of students coming from other countries, mainly Germany.

Following the Court’s decision, Austria provisionally amended the relevant Universities Act twice, firstly in July 2005 to abide the Court’s decision then, in June 2006, to re-establish restrictions to the access. The latter amendment specified that, for some studies, 75 % of the study places could be reserved to applicants with a secondary education diploma acquired in Austria (and 20 % to other EU students, the remaining 5% to third-countries students). A subsequent decree stipulated that these quotas were to be introduced for medicine and dental studies till the end of 2007.

Today’s letter of formal notice – based on Article 228 of the Treaties (i.e. non-application of an ECJ ruling)- indicates that the Commission, having analysed the justifications put forward so far by the Austrian authorities, considers at this stage that Austria has still not complied with the ECJ’s ruling and invites accordingly Austria to submit its observations.”

Reforms in Belgium (the Wallonian part) last year restricted the number of foreign students in particular degrees like veterinary science and physiotherapy. Many French students studied in Belgium because they are required to go through entrance exams in France. While writing about that case in March last year, I already predicted that this might constitute a breach of Article 12. In their letter, the Commission seems to agree:

“With today’s letter of formal notice, the European Commission indicates – for similar reasons as in the Austrian case – that this system has discriminatory effect on the EU nationals not residing in Belgium and that Belgium failed to justify the introduction of this system.”

Both Member States have now 2 months to respond to the letter of formal notice of the Commission. A letter of formal notice has no direct legal consequences but it is considered the first step of infringement proceedings which could lead to cases before the ECJ.

Most likely there will be more similar cases like this in the near future. The EU Observer for instance addresses the Denmark case:

“Meanwhile Denmark – which has many Swedish students in its universities – is looking at what Copenhagen may do to stop the influx from across the Oresund strait.”We have to find a solution at the EU [level],” Danish science minister Helge Sander said in July 2006, after it emerged that one third of students accepted in Danish medical faculties that year were Swedish.”

So why do I keep coming back to this issue? The cases in themselves of course do have a significant local impact. But it is more about the bigger picture: the loss of national sovereignty over an issue that has always been firmly within the authority of national governments. To what extent can a ‘non discrimination’ principle function in a service that is still seen as very important for the advancement of national society, national culture and the national economy.

Here, it could be interesting to make a comparison with the United States. In the US, discrimination on the basis of the ‘state of origin’ is a normal practice. Some public universities (the State Universities) have a clear mandate to recruit a certain part of their student population from their own region (some states or university systems set caps on the proportion of students that can be enrolled from other states) and are allowed to charge higher tuition to out-of-state students. One could conclude that higher education in the United states of Europe is more integrated than in the United States of America…

The pressure from the Commission and the rulings of the ECJ can especially have an important impact upon policies regulating student fees. If selection on the basis of nationality is no longer possible, it will become unsustainable to provide free education in some countries. After all, this is likely to create an influx of foreign students from other EU member countries (for which the tax payers in the host country are probably unwilling to pay). As we have seen in the cases above, not only tuition fees, but also other barriers to access might cause such an outflux.

In the ScienceGuide I read the reaction of the chairman of the National Unions of Students in Europe (ESIB), Koen Geven. He says that the letter of the Commission came too late and is too soft. Nevertheless, they are happy the Commission is finally taking action, because these two countries (Belgium and Austria) have been neglecting one of the most fundamental principles in the European Union – non discrimination – for too long.

I would think that the ultimate consequences of this increased Europeanisation of higher education might turn out to be very much contradictory to the guiding principles of some national student unions (for instance with regards to tuition fees and other financial issues, like providing financial student support to – national – students). I wonder what the Austrian and Belgium members of the ESIB think of the Commissions letter! Geven also says that the countries where the students come from should reconsider their regulations with respect to access to higher education. Indirectly that would mean – in this case – that Germany and France should harmonise their policies towards ‘a European standard’, leading to further convergence in the field and threatening the – so much treasured – diversity in European higher education.

I think the Commission is well aware of the senstivity of the issue on the longer term. It clearly shows that in the press release:

“The Commission recognises the sensitivity of the issue of access to universities in various Member States. While pursuing its role as guardian of the Treaties, it remains open to continue the dialogue with both the Austrian and Belgian authorities.”

I’ll keep a close eye on further developments in this case.

Retention of Foreign Graduates

Posted by Eric on January 17th, 2007
Some months ago, the Vienna based International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) published a study on admission and retention policies towards foreign students.

Much has been written about the way in which states and universities have promoted international mobility of students and international recruiting. This study looks at what happens with these foreign students after they graduate. This is particularly interesting considering that more and more industrialised countries are looking for ways to promote immigration of highly skilled professionals to help boost their economy.

The study covers the following countries in detail: Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, the USA, and the United Kingdom. Additionally, developments regarding student migration are outlined in the Czech Republic, Italy, New Zealand, Norway and Spain. The report (96 pages) shows some interesting statistics and comparisons. Here are some passages from the executive summary.

On the growth of international students:

The dynamic growth of the international student population over the last five years was also, compared to the US, more pronounced in many European and overseas countries. While the stock of international students increased by only 10% in the US between 2000 and 2005, France and Germany saw their international student population increase by more than 60%, Australia by over 120% and Sweden by 146%.

On retention rates:

On average, between 15 and 20% of foreign students can be expected to eventually settle and work in Canada. In New Zealand, of all first-time students between 1998 and 2005, 13% had already received a permanent residence permit by 2006. In Norway, of all non-EEA students studying there between 1991 and 2005, 18% stayed in the country after graduation (but only 9% of all EEA students). In the UK, a recent survey sent to EU domiciled students six months after graduation in 2005 indicates that around 27% of respondents were employed in the UK (up from 19% in 2000). On the other hand, survey data for the USA indicate that retention rates for foreign nationals who received a doctorate in science and engineering are well over 50% (there are no comparable data on non-doctorate degrees available).

Download the full report here

Whose European Higher Education?

Posted by Eric on August 9th, 2006

Last Month, the Dutch Central Planning Agency (CPB; international name: Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis) published a report on the role of Europe in higher education: “Higher education: Time for coordination on a European level?” (in English). More specifically, they asked the question whether there are valid reasons for more European (as opposed to national) coordination of higher education. Their final conclusion is NO: there is little empirical data that supports a shift towards European coordination of higher education. The authors claim that neither economies of scale, nor the existence of external spill-overs substantially justify an increased European role.

However, looking at European developments in the last few decades, I do see that there is a shift from national coordination towards European coordination. Question then is of course: why does this happen? And who pushes for increased Europeanisation if there are no justified reasons for nation states to do so? Clearly, many other parties do have a steak in further Europeanisation of HE:

1. Students, Employers and Professions. Student mobility in Europe will have (indirect) consequences for national policies. Increased mobility will demand increased coordination and standardisation at the European level. One of the consequences here has been the European Credit Transfer System, standardising the credit systems in European systems. In the future, the principle of non-discrimination might well pose severe obstacles for the discretionary capacity of states to offer free higher education for their nationals. The CPB report shows that most students aren’t very mobile and are not willing to go abroad to find quality education, but usually start their higher education close at home. I think however that – in due time – the European BaMa structure will lead to a substantial increase in mobility in the Masters stage, especially if the (financial) benefits of a prestigious ‘foreign’ Masters degree becomes more visible. With the increase in mobility of professionals there will also be more demand for standardisation and transparency in degrees and qualifications from the side of employers and of professional organisations (lawyers, medicine, accountants, etc). Simply said: increased movement and mobility leads to the necessity of coordination and facilitation of these flows. Be it flows of telephone calls or gigabytes or of students, academics, credits, services.

2. European Institutions. Many European rules have been created to coordinate and facilitate these flows. These rules were not at all related to higher education. Rulings of the European Court of Justice however, have had a substantial effect on the authority of national governments over their ‘own’ national higher education systems. In many instances, European law – that was not created to regulate higher education – indirectly affected higher education. Several ECJ cases in the 70s and 80s were related to education, revolving around issues like access to education for non-nationals in member states and eligibility for particular provisions and the relation with the principles of non-discrimination (for an excellent analysis, see Verbruggen, 2002, in Dutch). One of the best known examples of this was the Gravier Case.

Two points in the Court’s ruling of the Gravier Case were relevant to the European Community’s competencies in higher education. First, the ruling stated that a non-national student cannot be charged an additional fee as a condition of access if nationals of the host state do not pay the same fee. Secondly, by stating that higher education could be seen as vocational, the Court defacto extended the competencies of the Community, since vocational training was already part of the Treaty and related provisions now could also apply to (parts of) higher education.

The principle of non-discrimination together with the rules on the free mobility of persons, workers and services increasingly impact higher education even though they were not created to do so. The growing role of the ECJ in this ‘Europeanisation by stealth’ is illustrated by a recent example: the German medicine students in Austria. In this case, substantial national reforms can be traced back to ECJ rulings. Other national regulations on access to programmes might be proven to be counter to European law, like the case of French students applying for Belgian programmes in veterinary science and physiotherapy.

3. Universities. Universities will strategically try to lift coordination to the European level whenever they see benefits for themselves; in other cases they will ally with their national governments. The ‘European level’ creates an extra avenue for universities in which to operate. As a response they have created a dense network of relations with other universities in order to exploit – politically or financially – their European opportunities. With more financial resources spent on European initiatives, especially fuelled by the European Lisbon Agenda promoting innovation, universities will operate and cooperate more on a European scale in order to gain access to the financial and political resources. This lifts coordination up to a European scale directly as well as indirectly. Directly through the inter-organisational coordination of activities among universities. Indirectly through the emergence of an ever denser European policy community, existing of universities, university networks, intermediary bodies, resource providers and official EU institutions.

4. The European policy community in HE. The emergence of this European policy community in higher education has become a self-reinforcing process. The informal and formal networks and the numerous European organisations active in the field of higher education have all gained a vested interest in ongoing European integration. This is clear for official European institutions like the Commission, Parliament and ECJ, but it also goes for networks and organisations like the European University Association (EUA), National Unions of Students in Europe (ESIB), European Association for International Education (EAIE), Academic Cooperation Association (ACA), European Association of Institutions in Higher Education (EURASHE), the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA), etc. or inter-university networks like Coimbra Group, ECIU, LERU, the Santander Group, UNICA, etc., etc., etc.

The CPB might have found that there are not many reasons for increased European coordination. I think that this will not stop the Europenisation process. All in all, I think an increasing role of ‘Europe’ in national higher education is inevitable. The big question however is: who is ‘Europe’. Will the Commission and the ECJ take on the role previously performed by nation states in the coordination of higher education? Will it be an outcome of the interplay between universities, students, professions and employers? Or will it still be the member states, that are becoming more and more ‘Europeanised’ themselves. A mixture probably.

So, is it “time for coordination on a European level?” I think the question assumes too much agency, especially at the side of national governments. Whether it is time or not, it is happening. And it is not likely to stop.

Higher Education and Europe (again)

Posted by Eric on March 25th, 2006

Last Wednesday, 1500 students and teachers protested in Brussels against reforms to the Belgian Francophone higher education system. The reforms will restrict the number of foreign students in particular degrees like veterinary science and physiotherapy. Many French students currently study in Belgium because they are required to go through entrance exams in France.

The Times Higher Education Supplement has an article on the issue (subscription required):

The law, due to be introduced in September, is intended to cut the number of non-Belgians accepted on certain courses. In veterinary medicine, 86% of university students enrolled in 2005-06 had completed secondary education outside Belgium, while for physiotherapy the figure was 78%.

The law will set a cap of 30% for non-resident students on courses that had more than 40% foreign enrolment the year before. The cap will apply to chiropody, speech therapy and obstetrics. The Government argues that the influx of non-residents reduces resources per student, causes problems finding external placements and risks reducing the number of professionals who remain in Belgium.

Student groups and academic unions continue to mount demonstrations. Students have been particularly vocal, complaining that the measure is against the spirit of open access and mobility promoted by the Bologna Process. The Government disagrees, pointing out that 30% is still 12 times the European average for non-resident students.

This case looks a lot like the Europeanisation by stealth in Austria on which I posted in this blog in February. In Austria the case was about medicine and German students. In order to avoid an influx of foreign students to study medicine in Austria, the ministry established special requirements for foreign EU students. These requirements however were illegal according to an ECJ court ruling because this was seen as discrimination on the basis of nationality and contradictory to Article 12 of the Treaty, the non-discrimination principle.

My (limited) knowledge of European law therefore says that the Belgian reform will not be allowed by the European Court of Justice. Instead of referring to the (intergovernmental) Bologna Process, the students might better call upon the (supranational) EU Treaties.

Overseas Students Returning?

Posted by Eric on March 23rd, 2006

The talk about crisis in international student numbers in the UK and the US six months ago, may have been al little premature. The UK and the US are the major destinations for overseas students but due to stricter visa regulations after 9/11 and the London Bombings, the number of foreign students were dropping. Australia remained a popular destination and continental Europe slightly increased its position.

The NYT and the Guardian now report that the students are slowly returning. British universities recruited 6% more students from outside the UK last year. Although good news for university bank balances, the rate of increase slowed compared to the previous year. China still supplies by a large margin the biggest group of overseas students – including postgraduates – followed by India, the United States, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

A survey in the US found that the number of students applying for graduate programmes increased from 11% from the year before. Despite the increase, the number of applications remained lower than in the years before 2003. The number of foreign students applying declined by 28 percent in 2003-4, a previous survey showed, and by an additional 5 percent in the following academic year.

The power of plumbers

Posted by Eric on February 18th, 2006

That poor, backward, traditional place called Europe has been a popular topic in the last couple of days, in the official media as well as in several blogs. Dan Drezner’s blog and Crooked Timber both have a post on this issue, mainly responding to Cato Unbound (Is Old Europe Doomed?) and Fareed Zakaria’s piece in the Washington Post (The Decline And Fall Of Europe). Friday, the International Herald Tribune contributed to the discussion, claiming that Europe’s economies are in the doldrums.

Of course I understand that bloggers and columnists need catchy titles. And I will not claim that Europe is going through its best phase ever, but titles as those above are lavishly exaggerating. Sure, events in Europe have proved that there are big problems in incorporating Muslims and other cultures into economic, political and social life. Sure, some countries have difficulties in adapting their welfare-state systems to a globalised economy. And sure, the aging population will present more problems in the future.

But are the Europeans doomed? Are we witnessing the fall of Europe? Crooked Timber’s post and its comments place many of the arguments that Zakaria presents in perspective (and knock down a few of them). I rather think of it as a transition phase than the ‘fall of Europe’. Aging populations after all are not just a European problem. Neither is the integration of other cultures.

What bothers me most however is the cherry-picking. Europe consists of very diverse nations, in terms of culture, political systems, etc. Even the so-called Old Europe is diverse and does not just exist of France, Italy or Germany. As I discussed earlier, newspapers and magazines can easily support their message by picking the country that fits their argument.

The International Herald Tribune discusses to measures that could revitalise Europe’s economies. One is about whether services should be traded as freely between EU countries as goods, and the other is over the freedom of citizens of the European Union’s 10 newcomer countries to live and work wherever they choose within the 25-nation Union. The IHT claims that:

In both cases, a clear majority of voters and national governments are set on limiting these freedoms. Their stance might be understandable, though regrettable, if there were an economic advantage to be gained. But in fact the opposite is true: denying free movement of people and services carries heavy cost penalties for Europe’s already sclerotic economy.

I think the IHT is right here. Both freedoms would benefit Europe as a whole. But then again, it’s hard to reach agreement on sensitive issues between 25 diverse countries. Especially when it concerns the dangers of Polish plumbers..

Europeanisation by stealth

Posted by Eric on February 16th, 2006

The Chronicle reports on another clear illustration of how the European Union, and especially the European Court of Justice (ECJ), affects national higher education policies. Formally, the EU has no authority in the field of higher education. Yet, through spill-overs and ECJ litigation it profoundly impacts higher ed.
Until last year, Austria was the only country that did not have a cap on the number of students in medical schools. Everyone who finished high school and passed the ‘matura’ was able to attend medical school. Most EU countries had such caps in order to avoid an over-supply of doctors and specialists and to prevent spending costly resources on the training of doctors.
In order to avoid an influx of foreign students to study medicine in Austria, the ministry established special requirements for foreign EU students. These requirements however were illegal according to an ECJ court ruling (link to Chronicle/subscribers only). After all, this was seen as discrimination on the basis of nationality (Article 12 [ex Article 6] of the Treaty is one of the EU core principles and provides that any discrimination on the grounds of nationality is prohibited). The result was that at the day of the court ruling 700 German students had applied for a place in an Austrian medical school.
Response of Thomas Schmid, spokesman for the Ministry of education:

“All over Europe, we have limits in the field of medicine. Germany has just 8,300 medical-school places for a population 10 times the size of Austria’s. So what do many German students do? They come to Austria to get a place, and what happened was that the number of Austrians’ being able to study medicine was being dramatically limited.”

As a response to the court ruling, Austria’s education minister, Elisabeth Gehrer introduced a measure that would end unlimited access to eight courses of university study, including medicine and business administration. She said that Austria’s university system simply could not afford the strain of allowing unrestricted admission of all students.
But this still did not resolve the issue of foreign students. It just means that prospective students (whether they are Austrian or foreign) can not just enter any programme of choice anymore. With nearly half of Austria’s medical students coming from Germany and the prospect that the proportion would continue to rise, the government felt compelled to act. This time, the Austrian Minister seems to have found a way around the non-discrimination principle:

Austria’s education minister, Elisabeth Gehrer, announced on Monday that 75 percent of the places at Austrian medical schools would be reserved for students who finished their secondary education in Austria. Twenty percent of places would be restricted to students from elsewhere in the European Union, and the remaining 5 percent would be allocated to students from countries outside the union.

The legislation had been checked by experts in European Union law. Because the new measure’s provisions are not contingent on national origin, but on where a student completed high school, the government is confident it will pass easily through the legislative process and be enacted within a semester.

There is still hope for the nation state in Europe..
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