The Group of Eight leading industrialised nations is discussing plans to double the number of its lecturers and students who travel abroad to study and work, as part of a strategy to equip its citizens for the global economy.
With skills and knowledge becoming increasingly transferrable between countries, notably in the information technology and high-technology sectors, a meeting of G8 education ministers in Tokyo has highlighted a checklist of obstacles preventing the development of international learning and teaching programmes.
These range from difficulties regarding the recognition of curricula, credits and qualifications gained abroad, to issues such as poor levels of financial support and the difficulty of finding adequate accommodation.
Other problems identified by the ministers include a general lack of information about overseas education opportunities, poor language and cultural skills and the burden of red tape - such as entry procedures, tax, social security, health forms and work rules. Difficulties were also identified for tutors regarding the appointment of temporary substitutes and fears that a trip abroad would mean demotion on return home.
The education ministers have drawn up a plan of action, which is to be forwarded to a full G8 summit in Okinawa, Japan, in July. The G8 members are the UK, the US, Japan, France, Germany, Canada, Italy and Russia. The plan issued by the education ministers, including UK education minister Baroness Blackstone, said: "The increasing interdependence of the world economy has increased the need for mutual understanding through international cooperation. We want to encourage more mobility... not only through formal exchange programmes but also through cooperative arrangements between institutions and the voluntary mobility of individual students and staff."
In particular, ministers pledged their governments to tackling the identified problems in transferring qualifications and credits and foreign language and culture learning. The meeting also agreed that G8 governments should focus on education exchanges when framing development assistance policies for poorer countries. And ministers said they would encourage teaching programmes in foreign languages.
Education ministers also highlighted the need to develop lifelong learning to ensure that older citizens are not marginalised by change. Ministers agreed to encourage international collaboration on distance learning and cooperation between universities and colleges over the use of the internet and satellite communications for teaching and research.
The meeting also concluded that countries should cooperate in promoting education in information technology and other high-technology areas.
Ministers agreed to back research and share information on using technology to support teaching programmes and to develop clearinghouses for high-quality education software.