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.