Internacionalizacija visokog obrazovanja

Internacionalizacija visokog obrazovanja

The global landscape for higher education internationalisation is changing dramatically. What one might call ‘the era of higher education internationalisation’ over the past 25 years (1990–2015) that has characterised university thinking and action might either be finished or, at least, be on life support.

The unlimited growth of internationalisation of all kinds – including massive global student mobility, the expansion of branch campuses, franchised and joint degrees, the use of English as a language for teaching and research worldwide and many other elements – appears to have come to a rather abrupt end, especially in Europe and North America.

We have previously argued that Trumpism, Brexit and the rise of nationalist and anti-immigrant politics in Europe were changing the landscape of global higher education. Subsequent events have strengthened our conviction that we are seeing a fundamental shift in higher education internationalisation that will mean rethinking the entire international project of universities worldwide.

First, the good news

Knowledge remains international. Cross-national research collaboration continues to increase. Most universities recognise that providing an international perspective to students is central in the 21st century. Global student mobility continues to increase, although at a slower rate than in the past – with about five million students studying outside of their home countries.

The major European mobility and collaboration scheme, Erasmus+, remains firmly in place – and might even receive additional funding. The ASEAN – Association of Southeast Asian Nations – region is moving in similar directions as the European Union in promoting harmonisation of its academic structures, improving quality assurance and increasing regional mobility and collaboration in its higher education sector.

‘Internationalisation at home’ and comprehensive internationalisation have entered the vocabulary of higher education around the world.

The predominance and likely expansion of bad news

But these positive trends do not hide that 2018 is adding some troubling trends to 2017 realities. The major eruptions of 2016 – Brexit followed by the election of Donald Trump as United States president – have proved to be as problematic as predicted.

Increased problems obtaining visas, an unwelcoming atmosphere for foreigners and other issues are causing a decline in international student numbers in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Recent developments portend future trends that are likely to influence the international aspects of higher education in profound ways, at least in the medium term. Several examples illustrate these trends.

Limits to international student growth and use of English

In the Netherlands, arguably one of the most internationally minded countries in the world, an intense debate about the limits of internationalisation has started, in the media, in politics and in the higher education sector itself.

Comments from the rector of the University of Amsterdam, arguing that English-taught academic programmes are too widespread and should be cut back and that there are too many international students, have received wide support and the expansion of such programmes may be curtailed or reduced.

In other countries, including Germany and Denmark, there is also debate about the negative impact of English on the quality of teaching. In Italy, an intense fight at the Polytechnic University of Milan about the use of English in graduate education resulted in a recent court ruling that might limit the use of English in Italian higher education drastically on constitutional grounds.

Social scientists in many countries are expressing concern that the demands for publishing in English international academic journals are making it difficult for them to stay active in their national discourse. English will remain the predominant language of scientific communication and scholarship, but its dominance may be reaching a ceiling.

The challenges of transnational education

Another trend to watch concerns transnational education. A branch campus being established by the University of Groningen from the Netherlands, in Yantai, Shandong province in China, with China Agricultural University was suddenly cancelled by the university after protests by faculty and students in Groningen because of possible limitations on academic freedom in China and because of a lack of local consultation about the project.

This might well affect other joint ventures in China, and perhaps elsewhere, as both sides look more critically at the structural, academic and political implications of branch campus development and other initiatives.

Overall, it is possible that the halcyon days of growth in branch campuses, educational hubs, franchise operations and other forms of transnational education are over.

Academic freedom vs control

The issue of China’s influence on Australian higher education has been widely discussed. Chinese student groups in Australia and the Chinese government have been accused of trying to limit criticism of China and disrupt academic freedom. There has also been criticism, in Australia and elsewhere, of Chinese-funded Confucius Institutes for seeking to influence universities.

These trends reflect a growing concern about the influence of China, and potentially other countries, on universities. Academic freedom, also a strong argument in the cancellation of the Groningen branch campus and in American branch campuses in China and the Middle East, is challenging the future of transnational education and international student recruitment, particularly in countries where academic freedom is not assured.

Increased concerns about ethics

Another trend concerns ethics. The Danish government found that some foreign students and students from immigrant backgrounds in Denmark were using false addresses to claim student financial benefits. Reports from several other countries have claimed that international students have been cheating on examinations. Such stories increase negative views of international students.

Free tuition for international students to end

Norway has increased visa fees for international students – a move that critics claim is a first step towards charging fees to international students. Two German states also have started to introduce fees for international students, a drastic break with the past.

Discussions concerning increased fees for foreign students are more common as countries seek to use international students to subsidise domestic higher education – a practice that has been used in Australia for decades. While the debate about free tuition for local students is more intense than ever, it looks like tuition fees for international students are continuing to rise.

The nationalist–populist factor

The success of right-wing nationalist and populist forces in many European countries will have a significant impact on higher education policy – although the specifics are not yet clear. The controversy relating to the Central European University in Hungary shows one instance of an increasingly authoritarian government trying to eliminate an international university known for its liberal views.

The advent of nationalist governments in Austria, the Czech Republic and Poland will likely have an impact on higher education policy and on international higher education in those countries. The German right-wing nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, although not part of the government, proposes severe limitations on higher education in general.

Even where the far right is not in power, as in France, Italy and the Netherlands, the ideas of these parties, once relegated to an unimportant fringe, now have an influence on public discourse.

The Conservative government in the United Kingdom is still struggling with the consequences of Brexit on British universities’ participation in European programmes and with the importance of international students and faculty for its knowledge economy.

Countervailing trends?

While there are increasingly powerful political, economic and academic challenges to the internationalisation process in Europe and North America, the non-Western world shows an increasing interest in internationalisation. But, even there, there are problems. The two largest players, China and India, present some challenges.

Many have commented that China, in some respects, is becoming more ‘academically closed’. Increasing restrictions on internet access, a growing emphasis on ideological courses, problems of academic freedom (especially in the social sciences) and other issues are indicative of this trend.

In spite of significant increases in inward student mobility, China is, in general, not the first choice for students in terms of country of destination and many students, particularly from Western countries, do not seek to do their degrees there, mainly going for language and culture training.

For the first time, India has made internationalisation a key goal of its national higher education policy. But India lacks relevant infrastructure and it struggles to shape its academic structures to host large numbers of international students. The logistical challenges are considerable. Today, India educates only 45,000 international students, mainly from South Asia and Africa.

South Africa and Brazil face serious political and economic instability that negatively affects the international focus that they had expanded over the past decade. And Russia, another BRICS country, has its own problems with internationalisation.

It is likely that students seeking foreign academic degrees or an international experience will, to some extent, shift their focus away from the major host countries in North America and Europe, which are seen as less welcoming. Countries such as Canada and Germany, which are perceived as more receptive towards international students, may benefit from this trend as long as their policies remain stable.

Students may seek alternatives – perhaps in China, India, Malaysia, Russia or other countries. But all of these potential beneficiaries have problems.

Changed realities

All those involved with international higher education need to recognise the changed realities and that current, and likely, future developments are beyond the control of the academic community. These new realities will have significant implications for higher education in general and for internationalisation specifically.

Are we facing the end of internationalisation or can the negative trends described above also provide new opportunities and a better focus for our efforts?

The current criticism about the unlimited growth of teaching in English, the recruitment of international students and the development of branch campuses is coming from two completely opposite sources. On the one hand, there is the nationalist–populist argument of anti-internationalism and anti-immigration. More relevant are concerns about academic freedom, quality and ethics in the higher education community itself.

The call for an alternative approach, with a stronger emphasis on ‘internationalisation at home’, by the rector of the University of Amsterdam, as well as by Jones and de Wit for a more inclusive internationalisation, may be seen as an opportunity, with a shift from quantity to quality. If the nationalist–populist argument prevails, though, we may well see the end of internationalisation. Leaders in higher education around the world must make a strong stand in favour of the quality approach.

Datum objave: 01.03.2018