Global branches are still lopsided

Emerging economies will come to reject unequal exchanges, expert says. Sarah Cunnane reports

January 13, 2011

Higher education institutions opening branch campuses in emerging economies have been warned that they must take account of rising expectations in partner countries.

Alex Usher, president of the Canada-based Higher Education Strategy Associates, said many existing partnerships between established and emerging university sectors remain too one-sided.

"It's all very well universities setting up these partnerships in emerging economies, and I get what's in it for countries such as Canada - we're planting our flag, getting noticed and recruiting students. But what's in it for them? Eventually these countries are going to want to see students coming the other way."

Mr Usher was speaking ahead of the Being Global 2011 conference, hosted by Higher Education Strategy Associates and held this week at the University of Toronto. He is due to present the results of a survey of the views of nearly 3,000 Canadian students on internationalisation.

Despite the benefits to students of gaining experience in developing economies, the survey found that only 2 per cent of respondents would choose China as their first preference for study abroad, while just 1 per cent would choose India.

"Students don't want to go to the new markets in Asia and the Pacific," Mr Usher said. "They want to go to the UK and Australia."

Nearly a quarter of those who responded say they intend to spend at least one term studying abroad. However, the same percentage say they feel that international students coming to Canada are taking opportunities away from them.

The value of having international students in the classroom is also questioned: 29 per cent of respondents say their presence does not enhance the educational experience.

"The argument is that international students bring different perspectives to a subject, and that works in the humanities and the social sciences," said Mr Usher.

But he added that the argument did not apply to subjects such as mathematics, as "there are not too many cultural perspectives you can have on an equation".

Mr Usher said that the students who responded to the survey were not necessarily against internationalisation, but "could be saying that it is irrelevant to their studies".

He predicted that the biggest rises in overseas-student numbers in Canada will be in universities in rural areas that are less attractive to home students.

"There is a decline in the number of young people in Canada, and the institutions away from the big cosmopolitan spots are finding it difficult to draw students," he said. "So it may be easier for them to go looking for students abroad."

sarah.cunnane@tsleducation.com.

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