Recruitment agents and for-profits ‘to ride wave of nationalism’

Leading scholars warn of risks to internationalisation in populist era

September 13, 2017
Lots of money

For-profit higher education and international recruitment agents will benefit from the current wave of nationalism in the US and Europe, according to two leading scholars of international higher education.

Philip Altbach and Hans de Wit, respectively founding director and director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, predicted that the “commercial side of internationalisation” will gain from populist political climates in some Western countries, even though “anti-immigration sentiment points in the opposite direction”.

In an essay titled “Nationalism: the end of higher education internationalisation?”, published for delegates at the annual conference of the European Association for International Education, the scholars suggest that internationalisation of higher education in the US, the UK and the European Union will be challenged by reductions in funding and other forms of support.

“Internationalisation at home will encounter more opposition and will depend more on the autonomy of universities than on government support,” they write.

However, they add: “Perhaps less threatened are those aspects of internationalisation that are associated with the world of Donald Trump and his business-minded associates: the industries of recruitment, pathway programmes, franchise operations and other for-profit enterprises connected to the commercial side of internationalisation.”

Professors Altbach and de Wit also claim that other countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand and, in the longer term, nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America will become “more active players” in internationalisation.

Overall, the authors find that “optimism is difficult” when they contemplate the future of higher education in Europe.

“European integration and cooperation are not priority matters of the leading parties on the extreme right or left. At the same time, to survive, many centrist parties are also taking less pro-European stands,” they write.

“A drastic reduction in funding and support for the key pillars of European internationalisation in higher education is thinkable. The impact of cuts would resonate beyond the European continent, as scholarship schemes and capacity-building projects for the developing world would likely be the first victims.”

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