International Student Mobility and the New World Disorder
It is perhaps both risky and foolish to predict future international student recruitment patterns and trends. Fast-moving political, economic, and technological worldwide developments make it impossible to predict with certainty the impact of these developments on higher education and future international recruitment and enrollment.
However, I do think it is important to recognize that world events have had, and will continue to have, an impact on future generations of international students. The destinations of future foreign students cannot be isolated from changing worldwide geopolitical and economic realities. There are messages for international enrollment managers and deans on the front pages of our newspapers today.
Few would argue that 2017 was a year of worldwide change and disruption. Players in the geopolitical chess game seem to be constantly changing, creating new alliances – political, economic and societal.
In his recent book, A World in Disarray, Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, quotes a former United States director of national intelligence, who wrote: “Emerging trends suggest that geopolitical competition among major powers is increasing in ways that challenge international norms.” Disruption on the world stage.
Rob Brown of the global education group Navitas, in addressing a conference in September, 2016, wrote “Disruption will happen in higher education like nothing we have seen before and first world institutions are going to suffer the hardest. The real opportunities exist in the developing world.” Disruption on the international higher education stage.
In the Price Waterhouse Coopers report, The World in 2050: Will the shift in global power continue?, the authors estimate that in just a few decades, the world will be very different from what it is today in terms of global ranking of national economies and the major drivers of economic growth. The report notes that China overtook the United States in 2014 to become the world’s largest economy on purchasing power parity and by 2028 the authors project that China will surpass the United States’ GDP in market exchange rate terms.
Countries with the fastest growing economies, populations and growing middle classes in Asia, like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam will dominate economic growth in the region. The Asian middle class is expected to increase from 600 million in 2010 to more than 3 billion by 2030 to represent 66 percent of total global middle class population.
International student mobility, by extension, will be impacted by this new economic reality. I think it is safe to predict that regional mobility will grow in importance and the major importers of student today, the United States and the United Kingdom, will continue to lose their share of internationally mobile students. While China will remain a leading exporter of students, it will increasingly become a major importer of students with a goal of enrolling 500,000 international students by 2020.
According to an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report, the stage is set for a new level of competition among international study destinations. National visa and immigration policies, coordinated regional and national marketing campaigns, and the availability of scholarships and employment after graduation will be some of the factors countries can leverage to increase their market share of international students.
Demographic and income growth and expansion of the middle class will set the dial for future international student mobility. As long as the middle class continues to grow across the globe, demand for postsecondary education will continue to outpace supply.
The impact of populism on international student mobility cannot be underestimated and has already been realized in the United States and in Britain. Enrollment statistics for the fall, 2017 term for both countries revealed changes and in certain cohorts, declines in the number of international students.
In contrast, the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam and Singapore have made education a priority and have invested heavily in the sector. The result has been the creation of a political and economic “infrastructure” in those countries that supports higher education enrollments and academic and research collaborations.
There will probably be no greater impact on worldwide higher education than the integration of technology into education delivery methods. The internet has rendered geography irrelevant and digital options, especially in India and in some African countries, are changing the way higher education is consumed in those countries. The numbers are staggering and change daily, but according to the report, Digital Learning Compass: Distance Education Enrollment Report 2017, 30 percent of students worldwide are enrolled in at least one online course.
The jury is still out on the potential and sustainability of online education. But the major MOOC providers, Udacity, Coursera, edX in the United States, FutrureLearn in Britain and Iversity in Germany, among others, believe that MOOCs have the potential to educate millions of students, democratize higher education and build global communities.
I believe that the greatest promises of online learning and MOOCs, as well as the greatest threats, have yet to materialize.
The intersection of disruption with unpredictability demands a new way of thinking and planning. Successful international student recruitment and enrollment in the future will require international deans and recruiters who are both curious and courageous and engage in what Amit Mrig, the President of Academic Impressions, calls “horizon thinking.”
No one has a crystal ball. No one knows for certain how international higher education will evolve over the next year and in future years. The only thing we know for sure is that change will be our constant companion and political, economic and technological trends have, and will continue to have, an impact on where students enroll and why they select one country over another.
Seth Odell, a higher education writer, wrote: “The safe creative seldom achieves the momentum” Successfully embracing and managing change will be the currency of successful schools in the future.
The world is changing. And there are some segments of international higher education plans that are not changing fast enough to meet the headwinds of change.
We can either succumb to change or manage it. The choice is ours.
The worldwide political changes of 2017 will benefit China by increasing its political and economic influence in Asia and around the world. China’s new dominance and strategic alliances will influence the future of international student mobility.
It would be easy to focus an article about the impressive rise of China’s higher education system and the impact of Chinese students on international mobility patterns.
mbers are dazzling.
In 2017 more than 700,000 Chinese students studied abroad, some in high schools and colleges, others for a shorter period of time, perhaps for language study. According to an April 22, 2017 article in “The Economist,” 57 per cent of Chinese parents would like to send their children abroad for study.
But this is not an article about increasing Chinese student numbers. This article is an attempt to see to tomorrow and how China may and can emerge as a higher education superpower in the coming years.
U.S. columnist Ian Bremer predicts that American international leadership, a constant since 1945, will end this year. The U.S. has become the single biggest source of international uncertainty, creating a void that China is eager to fill.
Xi Jingping, China’s most powerful leader since Deng Xiaoping, has been called the chairman of everything. His policies have ushered in a new territorial assertiveness as evidenced by recent events. The fawning reception given him at the January, 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos signaled the importance of the Chinese president on the world stage. And the chairman did not disappoint. He presented himself and his country as champions for globalization and open markets and he suggested that China should guide economic globalization in the future. Mr. Xi’s frequently refers to the “Chinese dre
am of the great revival of the Chinese nation.”
Contrast these sentiments with the inward-looking policies of the U.S. and it is easy to understand why Xi’s comments were not lost on the attendees of the World Economic Forum. Nor were they lost on the countries in Asia and Southeast Asia, such as Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia.
In May, 2017 the first Belt and Road Forum was held in Beijing. This initiative will spend $150 billion in infrastructure projects in countries south and west of China, along the historic Silk Road. The overarching aim of the project is to construct a network of ports, railways and pipelines that will plug China into economic hubs across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
of the Asian Universities Alliance, with an initial membership of 15 universities from across the region, has initial funding of $1.5 million from Tsinghua University and is an example of China flexing its higher education muscles.
Joining Tsinghua University are several academic powerhouses in the region, including Peking University, the University of Tokyo, Seoul National University, the National University of Singapore and the University of Malaysia.
In addition to promoting student and faculty mobility within Asia, the organization also aims to promote collaborative research among member institutions. Chinese Vice-Premier Liu Yandong delivered the keynote address at the opening ceremony and predicte
d that the Asian Universities Alliance will “Resolve regional and global problems and bring together outstanding talents with an international perspective to serve regional development.”
According to Yoichi Funabashi, chairman of the Tokyo-based think tank, Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation, China can and will use its economic pull to draw Asian nations into its geopolitical orbit. Inevitably, political and economic ties eventually translate into educational ties.
Joseph Nye, who coined the term “soft power” in 1990, certainly would agree that China’s initi
atives are good examples of making “soft power” investments that have the potential to directly impact the political and economic future of the region.
What does this mean for the future of international student enrollment in the United States? It is my opinion that if, and when, United States’ policies change, it will still take a long time to untangle current perceptions and realities. International deans and recruiters will have to accept the reality of the increasing importance of China’s educational prowess and adjust future strategic plans accordingly.
ll be opportunities for American colleges and universities in the new world order. But these opportunities will demand a different way of recruiting from today’s standard procedures. International deans and recruiters will have to think differently and will have to focus more on collaboration and less on the go-it-alone strategies many schools use today.
Strategic plans written last year or this year, should be scrapped in full or in part. New plans should be written taking into account that what was once certain with regard to international student mobility patterns, are now uncertain.
Beyond the corridors of today lies a new world order.
Factfulness and Future International Student Mobility
I recently read an article about Bill Gates making a gift of the book Factfulness to every graduating senior from U.S. colleges and universities in 2018. My curiosity was peeked. I bought and read the book.
Factfulness by Dr. Hans Rosling, founder of the Gapminder Foundation in Sweden, is based on 18 years of research. The book did indeed, as the jacket cover promised, change my mind about the way I perceive the world and how I will conduct research and write articles in the future. Dr. Rosling wrote the book to fight what he calls devastating global ignorance and to present data and statistics to challenge prevailing perceptions.
What relevance could such a book have for those of you reading this article who publish, conduct research or are responsible for creating international strategic plans and recruiting and enrolling international students? In the opening chapters of Factfulness the author states emphatically that the one thing we cannot do without is international collaborations. That certainly has relevance in your day-to-day work. The author further states that the most important thing we can do to avoid misjudging something’s importance is to avoid lonely numbers, or using a single statistic to make a point. That certainly has relevance when planning future internationalizing programs or future recruitment. He urges readers never to leave a statistic by itself. For example, there is abundant data to suggest that in addition to Asia, a significant opportunity to recruit international students in the future lies in Africa. One set if statistics may discourage international deans and recruiters from recruiting in Africa based on the perception that most people in Africa are living below the poverty line and wars and droughts have rendered many African countries unsuitable for recruitment. But another set of statistics reveal that in a continent of 54 countries and one billion people, half of all Africans are living middle class lives. Most have cell phones and statistics on the number of African students enrolled in online courses is staggering.
There is abundant data in this book to prove that most of the world’s population lives in Asia. The United Nations forecasts that 20 years from now Asia and Africa will be at the center of gravity and world markets will shift from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. Many profitable investments will no longer be made in western capitals but in the emerging markets of Asia and Africa. That information surely has relevance to international recruiters and deans. Taking the long view means planning beyond next year’s incoming class of international students. It means challenging perceptions.
There will be, I believe, some nasty enrollment surprises in the fall term. There will also be some pleasant surprises. One thing for certain is that there will be changes in why and where international students enroll. Shifts have has already occurred.
Big change is always difficult to imagine. But instead of fearing change, international deans and recruiters should prudently use data to better understand the world’s globalized markets. As Dr. Rosling makes clear in his book globalization is not a one-off. It is a continuous process. He urges readers to develop a fact-based worldview and base future decisions on the facts.
After reading this book I thought that it should be given to all incoming first year students in September. As the book’s introduction states: if you are ready for critical thinking to replace instinctive reaction, if you are feeling humble, curious, and ready to be amazed, this is the book for you.
A little more than a decade ago China began imitating the United States, Britain, France and Germany by engaging in what Joseph Nye, termed “soft power,” a collection of methods used to extend a country’s influence on the world stage.
One example of Chinese “soft power” was the creation of hundreds of Confucius Institutes worldwide. Funding was available to Chinese language, history and culture. The first Confucius Institute opened in South Korea in 2004 and quickly spread to Japan, Australia, Canada and Europe. Today there are more than 100 Confucius Institutes at public and private universities in the United States and more than that number at American high schools. Writers of an article in “The Economist” estimate that the Chinese government spends $10 billion a year to promote its image abroad.
The Chinese government has made ample use of financial incentives to encourage the acceptance of Confucius Institutes on campuses worldwide. China pays $100,000 to each college or university that agrees to sponsor a Confucius Institute on their campus and annual payments are made over a five-year period. There appears to be a link between those schools with Institutes and full-paying Chinese students.
The Communist Party of China has made no secret that it considers Confucius Institutes a propaganda arm for the government. Chinese minister of propaganda, Liu Yunshan, in an article in “People’s Daily” wrote: “We want to coordinate the efforts of overseas and domestic propaganda and further create a favorable international environment for us.” Official Chinese positions on Tiananmen Square, Taiwan, human rights and Tibet are part of the information disseminated through the Institutes.
It is no accident that the ruling body of the Office of Chinese Language International, a branch of the Ministry of Education, coordinates all of the Institutes’ programs.
Within the past few years there has been pushback from several colleges and universities with regard to Confucius Institutes. In 2014, for example, more than 100 University of Chicago faculty members signed a petition portraying the information from Confucius Institute on their campus to contradict the university’s core academic values. The university did not renew its Confucius Institute contract. Neither did McMaster University in Canada renew its contract. Other universities followed suite, including, Pennsylvania State, Stockholm University, and the University of Lyon. But other schools in the United States continue to support their Confucius Institutes including, George Washington University, Tufts University, Portland State University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Still the controversy continues. In February 2018 Florida Senator Marco Rubio asked Miami Dade College and universities in North, South and West Florida, to shut down their Confucius programs. Along with many other U.S. government officials, Senator Rubio considers the Institutes a threat to America’s national security by institutionalizing Chinese propaganda on American colleges and universities. The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation also raised concerns about Chinese infiltration on American college campuses.
The Chinese government, quick to recognize a problem, has promised reforms.
Are Confucius Institutes an example of soft power becoming hard power? Or are Confucius programs just one piece of China’s plan to be recognized as a major player on the world’s stage?
Even this blogger, who clearly enjoys researching and writing articles about international students and trends in international student mobility, needs a vacation. There will be no blog postings in August. But I will come roaring back in September with new information and worldwide fall enrollment reports.
Ever since Deng Xiaoping opened up the economic levers in China in the 1980s, Chinese society has fundamentally changed. Unquestionably, one of the most significant worldwide developments of the past 30 years has been the economic growth in China. Millions of Chinese have been lifted out of poverty. For the first time in its history, China has a huge middle class. The average per capita income for many people in China’s largest cities is roughly equivalent to the average income in Taiwan and South Korea.
By some estimates, by 2020, the Chinese middle class will outnumber the middle class in Europe. Nobel laureate economist, Robert Fogel, predicts that China’s economy will be 40 percent of global GDP by 2040.
Construction projects, high rise apartment buildings, gleaming airports and high speed rail trains are all part of China’s new landscape. But many of these changes have come at a price: pollution, inflation over six percent, food contamination and shoddy construction projects.
The family, once the cornerstone of Confusion teachings, appears to be changing. A generation of university-trained Chinese are no longer willing to take care of their aging parents and grandparents. Chinese “old age” or “old people” homes are crowded and new facilities continue to be built to meet demand.
Chinese university students are not immune to the economic and societal disruptions taking place in China today.
A university degree from a foreign institution, once considered a ticket to a comfortable middle class life in China, is no longer the case. According to Amanda Barry, the Chinese liaison director for the Australian National University, “The foreign degree isn’t the edge it used to be. Big employers in China go to job fairs of the top Chinese universities and can fill their graduate intake. They don’t need foreign graduates.”
Nor is a university degree a guarantee of a good paying job after graduation. According to an editorial in China Report, the average monthly salary of the 2017 Chinese college graduate decreased by 16 percent from 2016, to 4,014 yuan, or $590. And the number of university graduates when surveyed who indicated they would pursue advanced degrees decreased from 21.3 percent in 2016 to 9.7 percent in 2017.
As Chinese society changes so will the realities and expectations of Chinese university students. As Chinese universities improve teaching and research and continue to climb in world rankings, more Chinese students will opt to stay and study in China where they can establish valuable contacts for future employment.
The implications for future Chinese international recruitment is obvious.