Focus on recruiting foreign students reveals ‘mission drift’

Pro v-c at Nottingham Trent attacks ‘profit chasing’ in sector and calls time on marketing speak

March 27, 2014

Source: Alamy

Global citizens: overseas students must not be used to ‘simply increase income’

Universities have been warned that they are not “profit-maximising corporations” and to ditch “marketing speak” when recruiting international students.

Nigel Healey, pro vice-chancellor for internationalisation at Nottingham Trent University, rounded on universities that were using international students simply to increase their income.

Speaking at the International Higher Education Forum 2014, hosted in London last week by Universities UK, Professor Healey said that in “many cases” universities are recruiting “large numbers of international students of increasingly poor quality in terms of language ability”.

“Those students then can’t integrate, they become marginalised,” he added.

In Australia, some universities took more than half of their students from overseas, Professor Healey continued, meaning that these students became “ghettoised”.

International students could not simply be used as a “cash cow”, he said. “It’s really important that we do not get fuddled by marketing speak. It’s not about the dollars, it’s about the mission: why are we doing this?”

“We’re not profit-maximising corporations. We’re universities. We have a very different mission,” he argued.

Professor Healey recounted a conversation he had had with a representative from Jaguar Land Rover, who, if asked, would want to increase the company’s sales in China, for example, by as much as possible.

But a vice-chancellor would be likely to keep their ambitions for international student growth in the range of 5 to 10 per cent, he said.

“[The vice-chancellor] is not going to say 100 per cent or 200 per cent. Because [if numbers increase this much] you fundamentally change the nature of the university. You change the culture, you change the academic identity,” he said.

Professor Healey explained that after joining Nottingham Trent in 2011, he had challenged the international office to explain why they were looking to expand recruitment from outside the European Union, and sought answers over why the institution was offering degrees through partners overseas as well.

After much “soul searching” the university decided that its “core mission” in teaching was to prepare students to be “highly employable global citizens”.

“We’ve moved right away from some of the transnational education, [and] from the validating service side because it’s clearly not adding to the core mission,” he said.

Nottingham Trent’s website shows it does still run a service validating courses offered overseas and 18 institutions in Europe and Asia are currently validated to offer the university’s awards.

Professor Healey was also scathing about student exchange programmes, saying that “a lot” of them were “incredibly superficial”.

“Kids just go with their friends for a semester somewhere, spend all the time moaning about the fact that they’ve got to speak a foreign language and they don’t like the food, and they just party with the kids from other English-speaking countries,” he said.

Instead, Nottingham Trent focused on creating joint degrees with overseas universities, he said.

The university was also funding scholarships for summer schools, particularly in Asia, for students who did not come from the “wealthy middle class” and so were less likely to have been on foreign trips during gap years.

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