International student mobility is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon in higher education in many countries of the world. The dominant trend of the past few years has been the growing flow of students from developing countries to universities in Europe, primarily British ones, and the United States. To receive education abroad using government subsidies, scholarships from foreign universities or even at the expense of parents is considered not only prestigious but also opens the way to a promising career in future professional activities.
There are many reasons for academic mobility, including the processes of globalization that led to the opening of borders, which in the past were problematic enough to cross, the low level of education in the countries of student origin, increased ambitions and financial opportunities of the middle class, the purposeful policy of some states to raise the level of human resources to help ensure economic growth and improve national educational standards, international rankings, etc.
As for the host countries, the flow of foreign students brings them tangible financial investments. More recently, the Higher Education Policy Institute and Kaplan International Pathways of Great Britain have calculated that the profits received from international students equal £20.3billion, which is 10 times more than the costs (Cowburn, 2018).
However, the contribution of foreign students should not be assessed in monetary terms only. British experts recognize that foreign students support universities with their mere presence, since otherwise many courses would have to be eliminated. In addition, they positively influence the social and cultural diversity of the youth environment, bring new research ideas and experience to Master and PhD programs, and help strengthen international partnerships. Benefits are numerous after their graduation too, as most students return home, but continue to maintain friendly, scientific and creative ties with their universities, becoming conductors of the soft power of the country where they received their education (Chandler, 2018).
The main suppliers of students to foreign universities are China and India. It is expected that by 2027 the number of Chinese students studying abroad will increase by 245,000 and reach 1.46 million; the number of Indian students will increase by 185,000 and reach 439,000. These two Asian countries will provide 60% of the global growth in outgoing students until the year 2027 (British Council, 2018).
Although the United States remains the leading recipient of foreign students, the total number of new foreign students dropped by 3.4% in 2016 and 7% in 2017. This indicates that the student flow is gradually declining, which is not surprising given the current presidential administration’s policy to reduce the number of migrants and complicate visa procedures (Lane, 2018).
In these conditions, an interesting phenomenon appears in a number of countries, with academic mobility passing from students to educational systems. Instead of attracting students and scientists to their country, many of the world’s leading powers, mainly in the West, export their educational systems to other countries. They create joint programs, research centers, international branch campuses, colleges and universities. By putting a full academic program in place, foreign universities provide local residents with access to their educational experience, as well as the opportunity to obtain degrees permitted by this foreign country. Leading exporters of knowledge are the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and Australia, and the leading importers are China, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Malaysia, and Qatar (Lane, 2018).
However, the number of countries competing for the placement of foreign students is growing every year, although, according to the forecasts of the British Council, the increase in the number of students leaving for study abroad in the next decade will significantly slow down. Even if new studies show that the number of outgoing students around the world will increase by an average of 1.7% per year over the next 10 years, this will be a significant slowdown compared to the period between 2000 and 2015 when the annual growth rate was 5.7% (British Council, 2018). The decline in growth rates is due not only to the deterioration of the political climate in the United States and European countries but also to a large extent to the increase of local investments in higher education in many countries. Many potential students now want to study in their home countries, and the greatest decline in absolute terms is expected to be in South Korea and Malaysia.
In this regard, another interesting and important trend is emerging – a significant improvement in the quality of higher education in the last few years not only encourages youth to stay in their home countries but also prompts students at the regional level to choose cheaper education which is of similar quality. The preoccupation of developing countries with strengthening their higher education systems allows them to begin a gradual transition from a group of countries that have sent students abroad to a group of countries that accept foreign students. First of all, this applies to the countries of Asia.
As of 2015, Asian countries sent about 2.3 million people to study abroad and attracted only 928,977 foreign students to their universities. Some of them decided to change this imbalance, aiming to dramatically increase the number of foreign students between 2020 and 2025. It is assumed that China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Malaysia will become leaders in attracting students from neighboring countries to their universities, and if their plans are implemented, about 1.4 million international students will be distributed within the Asian region within less than ten years. This will prevent brain drain, keep students close to home and, as a result, strengthen regional economies (Luo, 2018).
It is worth noting that, as experts predict, by 2050 the top 25 countries in the global ranking of the world’s largest economies will include 14 Asian countries.
China sets a goal to attract about 500,000 foreign students by 2020, partly relying on its One Belt, One Road initiative, which will involve more than 60 countries in Eurasia. Accordingly, Chinese educational programs, university grants, and scholarship programs will target students from collaborating countries. In 2016, the number of foreign Asian students in China already amounted to more than 264,000 people, which is 10% more than a year earlier.
China has a chance to increase significantly the number of foreign students by embracing those who do not have an opportunity to study in North America, Australia or Europe since Chinese education is much cheaper and therefore more affordable. In addition, experts note a notable improvement in the quality of higher education in China due to the government’s consistent reform efforts. As part of recently completed Project 985 alone, China’s universities received 451.2 billion yuan ($68.8 billion) from the central government and local authorities. It is worth noting that the Chinese scientific sector has received strong financial support from the government, especially for fundamental scientific research, which is essential for the technological development of the country. If today China is already among the five most popular destinations for foreign students, by 2020 it plans to take the second place in this ranking, with the United States in the first place (Schulmann, 2018).
Four years ago, the Japanese government set a goal to increase the number of foreign students in the country to 300,000 by 2020. Considering that in 2016 about 239,000 people were enrolled in the country’s universities, this task looks quite achievable. At the same time, more than 90% of students are from Asian countries. Japanese universities, both public and private, have found themselves in an extremely disturbing demographic situation, as the number of young students decreases every year, and unfilled student vacancies mean a reduction in funding to a critical level. To solve this problem, the government seeks to increase the attractiveness of Japanese higher education by raising the rankings of universities, inviting foreign professors and scholars, and employing foreign graduates at Japanese companies. A geographically diverse and constantly increasing cohort of students from Vietnam, Nepal, Taiwan, Indonesia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Bangladesh testifies to the effectiveness of these measures.
Another Asian country, Malaysia, has made great strides, in a relatively short period of time, in developing the national higher education system. In December 2016, 132,710 foreign students were registered in the country’s higher education institutions, and about 50% of them were representatives of Islamic countries in South and Central Asia, as well as the Middle East and North Africa, with 2% of students coming from Kazakhstan. By 2025, the country hopes to attract 250,000 foreign students. The British Council has highly appreciated Malaysia’s national policy in the field of education, noting the quality of educational initiatives and strategies, including the facilitation of the recognition of foreign qualifications. In the Malaysian model, private higher education occupies a dominant position, attracting more than 70% of foreign students, while maintaining a high standard of programs’ quality, as confirmed by authoritative international rankings.
The number of foreign students in the universities of South Korea is steadily growing: in 2015 it increased by 7.6%, in 2016 – by 14.2%, and the total number of students reached 104,262 people. By 2023, the country plans to attract 200,000 international recruits. In 2016, the Korean Ministry of Education allocated about $1.8 billion to 21 universities to open new scientific and engineering departments, with the aim to increase the attractiveness of universities for international students. (Luo, 2018)
Other countries in the Asia-Pacific region also seek to increase the number of students from their regional neighbors. To this end, in 2017, the Alliance of Asian Universities was established with the participation of 15 founding members, high-level universities from China, India, Hong Kong, Thailand, Myanmar, Singapore, Kazakhstan, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. The Alliance should strengthen higher education in Asia, increase competitiveness, intra-Asian mobility, initiate research activities and exchange programs between these 15 universities and within the region (Sabzalieva, 2017).
The Alliance of Asian Universities is a good chance for Kazakhstan to enter the Asian academic space. However, it is very important not to limit activities to declarations and interuniversity agreements; Kazakhstani universities need concrete and effective measures to implement ambitious plans and prospects. The successful experience of the above-mentioned Asian countries suggests some of the following measures:
at the level of national colleges and universities:
• Opening branches focused exclusively on foreign students;
• Government funding of English language courses in the field of science and engineering;
• Putting greater emphasis on science and technology, in particular, STEM subjects, which are in high demand among mobile students from all over Asia;
• Active work to improve positions of national universities in international higher education rankings.
at the state level:
• Opening the labor market for international graduates;
• Launching marketing campaigns and short-term programs aimed at attracting students from other Asian countries;
• Simplifying the visa regime, residency, medical insurance and tax requirements for qualified students from Asian countries, including attracting and retaining qualified graduates;
• Allocating subsidies to encourage universities that attracted the largest number of students from the Asian region;
• Creating databases of specialists from target countries and potential employers among enterprises operating in Asia.
International education serves a broader purpose, which is related to both academic and social roles and missions of higher education. It actively contributes to the development and diversification of the national economy. It promotes the creation of graduates who are global citizens, and, as a result, forms a more peaceful and progressive society and a more sustainable future.
Cowburn, A. (2018). Benefits of international students to UK are ’10 times greater than costs’, shows study. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/international-students-uk-brexit-costs-benefits-non-eu-university-immigration-figures-a8152151.html
Chandler, H. (2018). International students bring benefits that can’t be defined in monetary terms Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/international-students-bring-benefits-cant-be-defined-monetary-terms. Accessed on 14.02.2018.
British Council. (2018). Global student mobility growth ‘to dwindle over next decade’. Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/global-student-mobility-growth-dwindle-over-next-decade. Accessed on 14.02.2018
Lane, J.E. (2018). International Relations and Signals of Change in International Education. Retrieved from https://wenr.wes.org/2018/02/international-relations. Accessed on 07.02.2018
Luo, N. (2018). Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan, and South Korea Remap Regional Student Flows. Retrieved from https://wenr.wes.org/2017/08/global-mobility . Accessed on 14.02.2018
Schulmann, P., Ye, Z.Ch. (2018). China: Can the World’s Top Source for International Students Become Its Leading Destination? Retrieved from https://wenr.wes.org/2017/08/china . Accessed on 07.02.2018
Sabzalieva, E. (2017). What does the Asian Universities’ Alliance mean for Central Asia? Retrieved from https://emmasabzalieva.com/2017/06/05/what-does-the-asian-universities-a…. Accessed on 15.02.2018
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy.
Nadirova Gulnar Ermuratovna graduated from the Oriental Faculty of Leningrad State University, in 1990 she defended her thesis on the Algerian literature at the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, in 2006 doctoral thesis - on modern Tunisian literature at the Tashkent Institute of Oriental Studies, Professor.