The Impact of Nationalism on Future International Student Recruitment
All of the numbers are yet to be recorded but what we know today is that many of the predictions about international student enrollment for the fall, 2017 term, have become reality. This is what we know so far:
In a report published by ICEF, a survey of US colleges and universities revealed that only about a third expected to meet their enrollment targets for September. And 40 per cent expected declines in international student numbers for the fall. 85 percent of senior admission staff reported being very concerned about reaching their institutional targets for the next academic year. Early reports reveal a decrease in the number of applications from Chinese and Indian students, two of the most important markets for US colleges and universities.
According to the Canadian Bureau for International Education, Canadian colleges and universities report an increased number of applicants and enrollments from students from China, India, South Korea, France, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Japan and Brazil.
While there are no final enrollment numbers for schools in Great Britain, Australia, Germany, China, Japan, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, early application numbers indicate an increase in the number of international student applications in all of the countries listed with the exception of Great Britain.
At least in the United States, in an attempt to increase international enrollments for 2018, international enrollment managers and recruiters will probably engage in attending more international fairs, hire more agents, create new social media outlets and host more webinars.
I will not argue with the validity or productivity of this type of international student outreach. However, I believe there are other factors in play that will impact future international student recruitment and enrollment. One such factor is the rise of nationalism around the world and specifically in the United States, Great Britain, China and certain European countries, like Hungary, Turkey and Poland.
I believe that before embarking on doing more of the same, international enrollment managers and deans should first consider the impact of nationalism on future international recruitment plans.
The impact of nationalism on international higher education has already been felt in the declining number of applications from international students to the United States and European Union students to Britain. It would be easy to blame the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote for the reasons for the declines. But both the election and the vote were outcomes, not causes, of the votes. People around the world fear they are losing out because of free market globalization. People around the world believe their borders are too porous, and people around the world fear losing their sense of national identity.
In his book, Ruling the Void: the Hollowing of Western Democracy, the author, Peter Mair, makes the case for current populist sentiments. Elected governments, he writes, have conceded powers to non-elected agencies, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization.
In many countries in the Middle East, political turmoil and changing alliances have created new higher educational partners. While the United Arab Emirates continue to enroll increased numbers of international students, the tension between Saudi Arabia and Qatar and the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, do not bode well for the future of international recruitment in those countries. And then there is the increasing influence of Iran in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan to consider.
China is flexing its nationalistic muscle not only politically and economically but also in higher education. President Xi, since coming to power, has intensified efforts to build what he refers to as “cultural confidence,” beginning with a nationwide education program to preserve traditional Chinese culture and minimize “Western values” influence on Chinese society.
In April of this year, the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, called for an amendment to the National Higher Education law which would make it impossible for the Central European University to operate. CEU, founded in 1991 is a private graduate school with 1,000 students from over 100 countries. The Prime Minister wants to change its U.S. accreditation so that it can become free of “nefarious liberal influences.”
There are too many other examples of global nationalist movements to list in this article but I believe that growing nationalist movements have the potential to threaten and disrupt the global and collaborative nature of higher education.
International enrollment managers should carefully calculate how nationalism may impact their future international recruitment plans. The best plans of 2017 may not be valid next year because of the political and economic changes fueled by nationalism.
Parts of this article are excerpted from my new book, International Student Mobility and the New World Disorder, to be published in December, 2017.