Friday, June 28, 2013

Supporting Outward Mobility

All you need is a good suitcase ... and money
by Annie Burrows and William Lawton, The Observatory:

Studying abroad is not just an opportunity to experience a new city.

Students who spend a semester (or more) studying and/or working in a foreign country have the upper hand in language ability, cultural awareness and overall professional credentials.

They are more sought-after in the jobs market, and governments are well aware of the benefits of international experience to their economies and political leverage. But how much investment do governments think is necessary to support outward mobility?

The main HE exporting countries have low levels of student outward mobility. UNESCO data indicate that in 2010, China had some 563,000 students studying abroad, while the US had 51,500 and UK 23,000.

The US numbers hardly moved in the three years prior to these statistics. (OECD numbers are slightly higher for the UK.) Brazil is another stay-at-home nation, with only 27,000 outwardly mobile students in 2010.

That same year, the most common destination for US students was Canada, for Chinese students it was Australia and Japan, for UK students Ireland and for Brazilians it was France. 

‘100,000 Strong’ in the United States

In 2010, President Obama and then Secretary of State Clinton launched a 100,000 Strong Initiative as a way to expand and diversify the American student population studying abroad in China and ‘invest in US-China relations, one student at a time’.

100,000 was the cumulative target for Americans studying in China over a four-year period.

The initiative itself has no new US government funding but rather packages an existing collection of grants and scholarships, including scholarships offered by the Chinese government.

By 2012 it had received over $15m in pledges and the Chinese government had offered 20,000 scholarships. Among the private-sector supporters of the initiative are the Ford Foundation, Citi, Coca Cola, and Caterpillar.

An IIE progress report in January 2013 noted that the number of American students studying in China for academic credit from their home institutions had risen from 3,291 students in 2000 to 15,647 in 2010-11.

But more were also going to China for short, not-for-credit programmes such as study tours, internships, and volunteering. Because the precise numbers of those were not known, there was no way of knowing whether the 100,000 target was being reached.

A survey in 2011-12 revealed that there were more than 11,000 additional students engaged in these other education-related activities in China, beyond those normally counted in the IIE Open Doors surveys.

While the overall total therefore appears to be less than 30,000, the IIE felt that there were still many other independent travellers not counted and that the survey yielded an underestimate.

Its conclusion was that ‘Based on these findings, the 100,000 Strong Initiative is likely to meet the goal of sending 100,000 American students to China over a four year period, assuming a sustained or increased interest in studying in China’. This seems more hopeful than anything else.

In 2012, the 100,000 Strong Foundation, a non-profit, non-governmental entity, housed at American University’s School of International Service in Washington DC, was launched to bolster the State Department’s efforts to ‘bridge the gap between our two cultures, strengthen bilateral ties and enhance global stability’. It has funding from the Ford Foundation and other sources.

The foundation’s mandate encompasses independent studies, a national campaign, annual conferences, an alumni network, and encouraging government support for study abroad in China. Whether it enables the US government to hit the target remains to be seen.

In March 2011, Obama also launched a ‘100,000 Strong in the Americas’ initiative for outward mobility to Latin America and the Caribbean. As with its predecessor, there does not appear to be dedicated funding.

Meanwhile, in the UK

Increasing the outward mobility of UK students has been a concern of the UK HE sector and at least the last four UK government ministers responsible for higher education, but a coherent strategy has now emerged.

A Joint Steering Group on Outward Student Mobility was formed in October 2011 at the request of the current Universities minister. Led by Professor Colin Riordan, Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff University and Chair of the UK HE International Unit’s Advisory Board, it recommended that the UK should implement a national strategy for outward student mobility, with support from a dedicated body.

The International Unit (IU) has been designated to take this forward on behalf of the sector.

The UK Department of Business, Innovation and Skills will inject a one-off £200k to establish the programme and the Higher Education Funding Council for England is committed to further funding of £150k per year until 2016.

These are not astronomical sums but remarkable enough when money is tight. It is up and running with formal launch to come in July.

The IU indicates that it will consult with stakeholders on implementing the strategy, including the British Council and devolved administrations. One such liaison will be with the new Generation UK initiative from the British Council, launched two weeks ago.

Generation UK is an outward mobility programme with echoes of the 100,000 Strong Initiative. Its purpose is to offer support and guidance to encourage UK students to study, intern, and work in China.

The link between international experience and keeping the UK competitive during economic uncertainty was emphasised by the British Council at the launch.

Generation UK appears to have more funding than the other new programme, above. It was reported that DBIS will put in £400,000 over two years, another £250,000 will come from the British Council itself, and that businesses will be approached for support.

The money will fund scholarships for undergraduate and postgraduate study at mainland Chinese universities (for courses of different durations), two-month internships, and liaison with university career advisors to build links between industries in China and the UK.

The IU is already managing the big Science without Borders scholarship programme of the Brazilian government, which should see 10,000 Brazilians studying in the UK over the next few years.

Although Brazil’s main concern is to boost outward mobility, the programme also offers ‘Inbound Fellowships’ at Brazilian universities.

Barriers to outward mobility

There is no shortage of studies on the barriers to outward mobility and what can be done about them. A recent offering is from the British Council’s Education Intelligence unit in Hong Kong: ‘Broadening Horizons’ published in March of this year.

Its student survey showed that only 20% of UK respondents were even considering studying overseas and that only 24% felt they had sufficient information to make an informed decision. US students were more inclined to think about it (56%) but only 22% had the information needed.

Barriers identified were cost (53% of UK respondents and 72% of US respondents), obtaining a visa (35% for UK), the difficulty of leaving family and friends (35% for UK, 38% for US) and language ability (42% of US respondents). The IIE identifies cost and language barriers as the two main problems.

China, of course, looks at this the other way round. It has had a programme for inward mobility since 2010 - part of China’s National Plan for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development 2010-2020.

The target is 500,000 international students by 2020, 150,000 of which in higher education. Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore also have international recruitment targets.

The US and the UK should be pushing at an open door when it comes to China as a study destination. The problem is not with the host country but rather overcoming the obstacles at home - which include costs.

The sectors and governments in both the US and UK recognise the problems. But the responses reflect the American preference for a non-governmental solution.

No doubt the UK government would prefer that too but it accepts that at least some tax money will be needed to make a difference.

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