State-funded overseas exchanges: scholarship or tourism?

Nations paying to send students and researchers abroad often fail to assess their value, study finds

May 8, 2014

National governments are failing to monitor the effectiveness of state-funded overseas scholarships, despite spending millions of pounds of public money on such schemes.

Research by the British Council and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), which looked at scholarship programmes in 11 countries, found that although the benefits of scholarly exchange are perceived to be manifold, few countries have a grasp of what the positive outcomes actually are.

It is thought that more than half of countries offer centrally funded scholarship programmes, sending hundreds of thousands of students abroad each year at an average cost of about $35,000 (£20,800) each.

“We were surprised that countries who are spending money…know very little about the impact of these programmes on their academic systems, and even on the individual students,” said Philip Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, who presented the findings at the Going Global conference held in Miami from 29 April to 1 May 2014.

Marcelo Knobel, full professor of the Gleb Wataghin Physics Institute at the University of Campinas (Unicamp) and special adviser to the scientific director at the São Paolo Research Foundation (FAPESP), said many in the academic community were critical of Brazil’s overseas scholarship programmes. The largely government-funded Science Without Borders scheme, which aims to send 101,000 Brazilians abroad, was widely known as “tourism without borders”, he added.

The report, The Rationale for Sponsoring Students to Undertake International Study: An Assessment of National Student Mobility Scholarship Programmes, found that most scholarship recipients were “urban, male and affluent”, and Professor Altbach said this was an area in which improvements could be made.

“International student mobility is a crucial aspect of the internationalisation of higher education,” said DAAD president Margret Wintermantel. “But we risk missing a great opportunity if we do not analyse the impact of mobility measures more consistently…and learn from the experience of other countries.”

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