International education with student eyes: of value and values

 In News

In many of these cases, the affected students were the object of discussion or mere part of the equation: more about us rather than with us, and with less affluence within their communities, this implied less capacity for international students to exercise agency.

Very recently, we have seen a manifestation of this more general political upheaval in the results of the European elections, with strengthened voices questioning cosmopolitanism, and internationalisation efforts in higher education impacted as collateral damage.

Not only do students need to navigate more volatile environments, which sometimes limit their choice of country destination and create unbearable unpredictability, but the direction of change is not unidirectionally positive anymore.

The European elections results are a continuation of a trend. Recent examples of restrictive measures include increasing tuition fees in Finland or Norway, reducing (then partly rescinding the decision) the number of international places in Denmark, stricter immigration laws in France also affecting students (parts of it rejected by the Constitutional Court), to name a few from the European continent (for a wrap-up of 2023, see a PIE article here).

Some of the concerns raised up in apparent relation with internationalisation are legitimate, for example the issues of student housing (see Netherlands, Ireland or UK), the decrease in local language courses (see Netherlands or Scotland) or the issue of imbalanced mobility, discussed in the Informal Council meeting of EU ministers of education which I had the opportunity to attend in March. Potential imbalanced mobility is also the proclaimed reason why the current UK government declared their lack of interest in re-joining Erasmus+.

We achieve more balanced mobility by creating incentives for students, smoother immigration and work regimes during or post-study

But the medicament implied by some is erroneous. We achieve more balanced mobility by creating incentives for students, smoother immigration and work regimes during or post-study; promoting multilingualism more than just as a buzzword, increasing attractiveness and a safety net for mobile students.

We fix issues of student housing by investing in accommodation and guidance services, a critical challenge for mobile students (and for many students in general) according to an ESU-ESN report.

The international education community should reinforce the sector by insisting on its values – and its value. The values are those that underpin it, and that justify putting the student in the centre, breaking down silos and promoting cooperation in education (rather than fencing into like-minded networks) even in times of geopolitical drifts.

And the individual and socio-economical value of international education as a driver for social mobility, mutual understanding and prosperity through exchange of knowledge and talent that we are all much aware of, but so often only communicate it to the wider public in times when it is challenged and do not adapt it to the local context.

According to our recent Bologna with Student Eyes publication, our unions consider that only 45% of European governments put in place effective policies for incoming (credit or degree) mobility, in comparison with 68% for higher education institutions. 70% of European countries do not have targets for receiving international students, and this can be acknowledged also by the second-class status in several contexts: in only 5% of cases they have similar opportunities for work placement or internships, in 8% of cases for taking a loan, 20% of cases to access healthcare, 45% to access public transportation discounts and 64% to access student housing.

The international education community should reinforce the sector by insisting on its values – and its value

Not only can this enable an unwelcoming environment, but also shows the lack of a strategic, holistic approach to the international education sector, including its interlinkages with other policy areas.

Following narratives in the public space, one may be tempted to believe all is gloom and doom for international students worldwide. However, this fails to recognise the crucial advances that many students see, not only in terms of increasing mobility flows and the opening of systems, especially in the Global South (which mostly gets less of a sparkle).

The entry into force of the UNESCO’s Global Recognition Convention should reduce the hurdles of having a degree recognised and the effort, time and money spent by graduates, thus boosting mobility, even more so in non-traditional study destinations.

It should also spur more work on quality assuring higher education provision, especially transnational education (TNE). Cases of fraudulent, bogus providers or which offer a degree of lesser quality than the ‘home offer’ are still rampant, taking advantage of lesser scrutiny or weaker protection for students, which have little avenue for success in case of seeking redress.

In global settings, the usual practice of Western-based providers offering transnational education in countries of the Global South should be careful in creating valuable and accessible programs, preferably through partnerships with local institutions.

In the European Higher Education Area, the recently adopted the Tirana Communique aims to tackle these challenges, while four years ago in the Rome Communique the ministers decided that TNE should be quality assured with the same rigour as the home-based offers. Also at European level, the University Alliances offer much needed momentum, including for new formats of joint programmes, although with much of the potential yet to be unlocked.

Mired in challenges, students may take discount options. While distance learning or Collaborative Online International Learning activities are becoming increasingly popular, we must take into account that not all those enrolled, in increasing numbers, do so out of choice rather than availability.

While proving valuable, not all offer a quality, meaningful experience for students, despite on face value appearing popular.

If we are to learn something, it’s that the international education sector is resilient against shocks, from Canada to New Zealand. But what worked once may not worked twice – for the interest of students, we must continue upholding the values and promoting the value of international mobility, so it can thrive durably.

The post International education with student eyes: of value and values appeared first on The PIE News.

Recent Posts

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt