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New(ish) publication: The politics of the great brain race

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Going for a literal image rather than a cat meme on this one

I realized I didn’t blog about a recently published article I co-authored with Prof Creso Sá, my supervisor at the University of Toronto. How remiss of me! (?!)

So, let me tell you about our article, The politics of the great brain race: Public policy and international student recruitment in Australia, Canada, England and the USA, which was published in leading journal Higher Education in February 2018.

For regular readers of the blog, the first thing you may notice is that this is not about Central Asia or indeed anywhere in the former Soviet space. Keep breathing!

The rationale for looking in depth at Australia, England, Canada and the US, four majority Anglophone jurisdictions, was based on their historic ability to attract significant numbers of international students – just under 40% of the world’s total in 2015. The fact that all have similar linguistic and cultural characteristics in their higher education systems was a deliberate choice to compare similar cases (take a look at this article by Chris Pickvance for more on types of comparative analysis).

We wanted to find out how governments in these four jurisdictions have used public policy to deal with (I wouldn’t go as far as to say ‘manage’) international students in the period 2000-2016. To do this, we looked at legislation that had been passed, new programmes, and other policy changes. Overall, I read somewhere around 200 articles, books, reports and other publications to learn more about student mobility in the four case study jurisdictions.

A nice addition to this was a comprehensive table I compiled that gives you a side-by-side comparison across the four jurisdictions in the policy areas of immigration, labour market, family and health, finance, education and quality assurance, and promotion/marketing. So if you want to know, for example, which is the only jurisdiction that has legislation protecting the (financial) rights of international students, check it out!

Creso has written up a very nice summary of our findings in the most recent issue of International Higher Education. This is open access and the article, with the excellent title, Forget the Competition Trope, can be downloaded here.

The title of his piece makes the key idea pretty clear. As he notes in the article (page 11):

we argue that none of these major countries have dealt coherently with international student attraction and retention. Furthermore, the long-term outlook required to cope with the assumed global competition for students is glaringly absent.

International student growth has been fairly consistent over the 16 years we studied (despite the odd dip e.g. after violence against a small number of students from South Asia studying in Australia).

That was a real surprise to us.

Not only is policy towards international students fragmented across a range of goverment ministries and agencies, but there were no clear patterns of governments facilitating international student mobility. This is not the kind of behaviour you would expect to see of a truly competitive jurisidiction engaging in the so-called ‘great brain race’.

This led us to the conclusion that international student enrolments are likely to continue to grow and that this happens despite not because of political and policy changes.

This article was the result of a nine month long project funded by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities under their OHCRIF scheme. Miigwetch Thanks / Merci!

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References

Sá, Creso M., and Emma Sabzalieva. 2018. “The Politics of the Great Brain Race: Public Policy and International Student Recruitment in Australia, Canada, England and the USA.” Higher Education 75 (2): 231–53. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-017-0133-1.

Sá, Creso M. 2018. “Forget the Competition Trope.” International Higher Education 0 (95): 11–12.