Germany and Malaysia have been singled out as the best performers in major British Council research that looks at national policies on openness to international higher education.
The Shape of Global Higher Education: National Policies Framework for International Engagement, published on 4 May, examines policies in 26 nations by assessing them against 37 qualitative indicators.
Although the British Council did not compile an overall ranking, such a list can be produced by tallying scores in the three broad categories of indicators – openness to international mobility for students and academics; domestic and cross-border education quality assurance and recognition of overseas qualifications; and fair access and sustainability in terms of countering potential negatives such as brain drain.
Giving each category equal weighting, the overall top five would be made up of Germany, Australia, the UK, Malaysia and China (see table below).
The research, timed to coincide with the British Council’s annual Going Global conference, this year taking place in South Africa, was written by Janet Ilieva, founder and director of Education Insight, and Michael Peak, research manager at the British Council.
Mr Peak said that “two countries above any others have the most balanced portfolio of providing high-level support for international engagement – and those countries are Germany and Malaysia”. They “perform consistently across all of the three categories”, he said.
Other key findings from the research are that financial support from governments is “mainly focused on student mobility and policies aimed at ensuring equitable access and brain drain prevention”; that nations such as Australia, Germany and Russia have widened access to their labour market for international students; and that quality assurance is “an area of weakness”.
“More than 100 pieces of legislation and national strategies were reviewed and evaluated” in the research, the study says.
The group of 26 nations was chosen to include representatives of leading higher education countries such as the US and the UK as well as a number of nations entitled to overseas development aid – among them Ghana, Kazakhstan and Vietnam. The aim is that policymakers will be able help their universities internationalise and forge collaborations by using the data.
An online tool allows users to isolate specific measures within the data, and to explore different nations’ strengths and weaknesses.
Jo Beall, director of education and society at the British Council, said that UK government research had shown that higher education is a “key service sector export”. But, she added, “we’re not the only ones who know that. Around the world countries are growing their international higher education sectors.”
She continued: “People who are making policy and decisions in the higher education arena have to make those decisions on the basis of evidence, on data. This research is designed to help them.”
Mr Peak said that international openness was key in research, not just in student mobility. Internationally mobile researchers “are more productive and produce research that is more highly cited”, he added. “To cater for these researchers who are expecting an international career, universities need to be able to act in an international environment.”
In terms of those judged to be leading performers, Germany is known for the strength of its federal-level policies in this field, and it has a national agency, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), to promote inward and outward flows of students and academics. The country has a target to host 350,000 foreign students by 2020 and is keen for them to stay on for work, given the nation’s need to address a dwindling labour force.
Malaysia hosts a number of campuses established by overseas universities and is at the same time a key sender of overseas students to nations such as the UK.
Mr Peak explained that on all the measures in the research, the British Council had awarded a score of 1, 0.5 or zero. The 0.5 score applies if a nation meets a criterion “to some extent”, he added.
On living/working environment for international students, the UK – which is often criticised over its student visa regime – “scored 0.5 because students are able to work for limited periods”, Mr Peak said.
He explained that the US’ relatively low score in the index came because the research “looks at national measures in place, and in the US the system is state-by-state – there’s a limited amount of centralised policy on higher education”.
“Given the growing prominence of government engagement in international higher education, and the interdependencies between national HE systems, there is a need for greater co-ordination between policies with a view to achieving greater impact,” concludes the report, which notes that this could “counteract some of the unintended consequences of internationalisation, such as brain drain”.
The countries most open to international higher education
Source: THE analysis of British Council report. Average of scores across three categories: openness; quality assurance and recognition; and access and sustainability