National Higher Education Internationalization Strategies
By Nick Clark, Editor World Education News & Reviews
The audit, evaluation, and investigative arm of the U.S. Congress released a report in April looking at the funding and marketing of U.S. higher education abroad, and how those efforts compare to those of other major education-exporting countries.
The report, prepared for the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, is an effort to offer a stocktaking of the progress made in leveraging U.S. higher education as a means of advancing public diplomacy (improving the U.S. image abroad) since the events of September 11, 2001, after which tertiary enrollment numbers among international students dropped for the first time in over 30 years. In addition to public diplomacy efforts, the report also looked at development funding, which is identified as another means of creating face-to-face exchange opportunities with foreign students, researchers, professionals and educators.
While the report is primarily concerned with public funding for international students, it is quick to point out that the vast majority of internationally mobile students are either self-funded or on scholarships from the institution attended.
In looking at public funding programs in the United States, the study reviewed the practices of the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). It also studied government funding programs for international students in the United States, Australia, China, the European Union, Germany and the United Kingdom.
The report concludes that governments “use higher education for international students to advance diplomatic, development assistance, economic, and other objectives, often concurrently.” It found that governments are increasingly “marketing their higher education to the international community much as a business would promote a product,” citing branding efforts in Australia and the United Kingdom, and quality improvement and modernization initiatives in developing markets such as China. In looking at scholarship programs, the report concluded that public diplomacy efforts typically focus on students selected on merit-based criteria, mainly at the graduate level, with the scholarship money used to cover the cost of tuition and living expenses.
International Public Diplomacy Efforts Among Competitor Nations
All governments reviewed by the report “fund higher education for international students to advance diplomatic, development, economic, and other objectives, often simultaneously.”
As an example, the report pointed to the economic contribution international students make to the Australian economy, while also quoting Australian officials who state that “student exchange is Australia’s primary way of providing a contemporary understanding of the country, building linkages between Australia and foreign nations, forming the basis of business and cultural relationships, demonstrating the quality of Australia’s educational opportunities, and helping dispel the myth that Australia is a “far away land””
Chinese officials appeared less concerned with the economics of international students, in favor of more aspirational goals of “promoting peaceful and common development of all countries,” while also allowing Chinese students and institutions to develop ties and networks with the best minds and institutions overseas, mutually benefitting institutions and countries.
In Germany, the focus appears to be on attracting bright students to “help advance German research and innovation goals while also advancing public diplomacy goals by returning to their home countries as unofficial ambassadors for Germany.”
Officials in the United Kingdom (UK) reported that international education contributes to building a high-skilled workforce, helps build relationships with people from around the world, enhances understanding about each others’ cultures, and opens doors to trade, investment, and political influence.
In the United States, the report notes that the multiple goals sought simultaneously through international education relate to the diplomatic, development goals of poorer nations, filling skills gaps at home, and also as a revenue generator.
It is interesting to note that officials in the United Kingdom made no mention of the economic motivations behind attracting foreign students, despite anecdotal suggestions from multiple media outlets in recent years that the fees paid by international students go a long way to balancing the books of many universities that struggle with a lack of public funding and artificially low tuition fees, as mandated by government-imposed caps.
National Recruitment Strategies
The report notes that Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom have all developed broad national marketing strategies to promote their higher education systems to international students. Although not included in the report, Canada, Holland, Malaysia and New Zealand can be included in this group, with those national governments all recently launching marketing campaigns in a bid to gain market share in international higher education enrollments.
A key element of these strategies is branding through the use of logos and slogans, much like the branding strategies used by multinational companies to promote their latest products.
Branding logos are a relatively recent phenomenon:
All countries that have developed a brand and logo, use their logos and branding on most of their promotional materials in a bid to convey a unified, country-specific feel to learning and living there. Each logo shown above has an attendant, centralized website with information related to studying in the particular country. The information typically included in these websites relate to the university application and admission process; studying and living in-country; navigating issues related to red tape, such as applying for study visas and work permits; and seeking financial assistance. The websites are typically available in a range of languages that include – at a minimum – the home language, English and Chinese.The United States provides an online guide for international students via the EducationUSA website, part of the Department of State. Potential students are directed to advising centers located around the world for additional information and assistance. The website is available in six different languages, and provides information related to selecting a school, finding English-language programs, applying for visas, and obtaining financial assistance. Information on the US education system, accreditation and student services are also available.
Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States and China also perform outreach efforts through overseas information centers in major source countries to complement their online presence.
Australia Education International (AEI), the international arm of the Australian Government’s Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, maintains a network of 25 offices around the world, which operate from diplomatic missions in 17 countries. The primary focus of the work of these offices is to promote Australian education, but they also collect and disburse market information and opportunities to Australian institutions of education looking to target particular markets. Typically, this information is very specific and available only to Australian subscribers.
The work of AEI should not be confused with that of IDP Australia, a partly industry-owned company with 75 student offices in 29 countries representing 38 member universities. IDP focuses on offering student placement (recruitment) and English language testing services. The English-language subsidiary of the company, IELTS Australia Pty Ltd, is a partner in IELTS (International English Language Testing System), one of the world’s leading English language proficiency tests, and is intimately connecting with the recruitment arm of the company. IDP’s IELTS partners are the British Council and Cambridge University.
The United Kingdom has a presence in over 100 countries, largely through its British Council network, which offers cultural insights and language tutoring in addition to promoting British education abroad.
Germany operates a network of 48 centers through the German Academic Exchange Service, while also maintaining a presence in over 80 countries through the Goethe Institute network, which operates primarily to promote German culture and language.
The U.S. network is comprised of 450 advising centers dotted around the world, and known as the EducationUSA Advising Centers. The GAO report notes that “the reported levels of services and capabilities offered by the overseas information centers vary from country to country.”
China has recently been building a global network of cultural centers, known as Confucius Institutes, that typically operate from local universities and offer cultural and language training. As of April 2009, there were 328 institutes in 82 countries.
All countries reviewed above offer merit-based scholarships, typically at the graduate level, and covering the costs of tuition in addition to some other expenses.
The Australian Development Scholarship program selects talented students, mostly at the graduate level (90 percent of all scholarships) through a competitive selection process coordinated between Australian officials and partner governments. The awards include tuition, travel, health, insurance, and allowances to cover study materials and living expenses. In dollar terms, these awards are worth an average of US$38,000 annually to each student. The program has a strong geographic focus, with over 80 percent of scholarships dispersed to students from the Asia-Pacific region.
The European Union awards scholarships to non-EU graduate (masters and doctoral) students through its Erasmus Mundus program on the basis of academic merit. Under this program, individual courses of study are developed by consortia of universities within the European Union and these consortia are given considerable latitude in selecting applicants. The awards made through the program are of a fixed annual amount ($31,000), which is considered adequate to cover tuition and living expenses. Students form 113 countries in 2008 were eligible to apply for the scholarships. In order to maximize the diplomatic reach of the program, no more than a quarter of the scholarships awarded by a particular consortium go to students from one country. A total of 1,957 students received awards in 2008.
The U.S. Fulbright Foreign Student Program selects scholarship recipients through a competitive process and is reserved for students holding at least a bachelor’s degree. Most awards are for one to two years, although some research recipients can renew for up to five years. Average annual awards total $32,000 per year, but go as high as $60,000 per annum per student. Students from 143 countries were eligible for the awards in 2008. Other U.S. scholarship programs include the Edmund S. Muskie Graduate Fellowship Program, exclusively for students from the former Soviet Union, and the U.S. Global Undergraduate Exchange Program.
Other national scholarship programs include the Chinese Government Scholarship Program, which offers full and partial scholarships for study in China to merit-based undergraduates, graduates, language students, and visiting scholars for a period of one to seven years (a total of 3,747 recipients in 2008); the U.K.’s Chevening Scholarships and Fellowships program, which offers merit-based, mainly graduate scholarships for two to four years; and the German Academic Exchange Service Study Scholarships and Research Grants, a one-year merit-based program offered mainly at the graduate level.
Most countries make their scholarships available to students from a wide range of countries, typically 40 or more, in order to maximize their diplomatic reach. In terms of overall funding, the Erasmus Mundus program was funded to the tune of US$136 million in 2008, while the Fulbright programs received over $95 million in public funding. The Australian Development Scholarships Program received US$84 million in funding in 2008. Most programs reviewed by the GAO, however, received less than US$50 million in funding in 2008.
It should be noted that funding levels for scholarship programs vary form year to year, depending on national objectives, such as placing greater emphasis on increasing the visibility of national or regional education systems. For example, the report nates that “over the past 5 years, the European Union has increased funding levels for the Erasmus Mundus program more than tenfold to 93 million euros ($136 million in U.S. dollars) annually, and plans to spend 950 million euros ($1.39 billion in U.S. dollars) on the program over the next 5 years.” By contrast, the number of scholarships offered through the U.K.’s Chevening program declined from over 1,500 in 2004 to approximately 1,000 in 2008.
Implementing a Successful Scholarship Program
The officials interviewed for the GAO study cited a number of strategies that they say contribute to successful programs. The following is a summary of those strategies:
– Offering preparatory courses or program orientation to all scholarship recipients enhances the students’ chances of success at the host university, and is particularly useful for students who require additional language, cultural or academic skills. Recipients of the Australian Development Scholarships are required to complete a four- to six-week introductory academic program that covers cultural and academic challenges of living and studying in Australia. The Chinese Government Scholarships Program requires recipients who do not meet minimum language proficiency standards to take up to a year of intensive Chinese-language training upon arrival in China.
– For scholarship students from developing nations, some officials highlighted the importance of aligning study programs with the human resource and capacity building needs of the sending country. In Australia, officials work with sending governments to identify the most acute development needs and consider these with the applicant’s proposed field of study when awarding scholarships.
– In connection with the point above, development assistance programs typically seek to make sure participants return to their country upon graduating. All Australian Agency for International Development scholarships are expected to return to their country of citizenship for at least two years after completing their scholarship program. Students are required to sign a contract, which stipulates the two-year requirement. If broken, the contract states that recipients are required to reimburse the Australian government the full value of their scholarship. Australian officials cite a 95 percent return rate. USAID recipients are required to sign a similar contract, and officials cite an 86 percent return rate for their Collaborative Research Support Programs.
– Active alumni networks are important in reaching future applicants, tracking alumni, and assessing their careers and accomplishments as well as perceptions of their international study experience. These networks also help to develop relationships between the sending country and the former host country, a key objective of many diplomatic- and development-focused scholarship programs.