The opportunity to study abroad is usually positioned as a life (and CV) enhancing experience. Among other benefits, studying abroad enables you to learn about different ways of teaching and learning, find out about new cultures, make new friends, and brush up on your language skills. Little wonder that the number of internationally mobile students is rapidly increasing – around five million currently and predicted to rise to eight million by 2025.
A recent series of meetings in Turkmenistan – a major sender of international students, primarily to Russia and Belarus – sought to put paid to any romantic ideas about studying abroad.
Parents of students currently studying abroad were summoned to attend meetings in which government officials informed them about the many dangers associated with these overseas stays.
Chief among the potential problems is religious (Islamic) radicalization – a concern shared by the Tajik government, which since 2010 has been clamping down on citizens with the temerity to study courses related to Islam abroad.
Other concerns raised by the officials included the prospect that Turkmen students would commit crimes while abroad, go to bars or visit brothels.
Despite ‘untrustworthy’ (outspoken?) parents not being invited to the meetings, Chronicles of Turkmenistan, an information resource run by the the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, nevertheless reported how frustrated some of the attendees became at one meeting:
One could overhear outraged exclamations from the audience:
– What bars are you talking about if they have no cash for food!?
– A student visa does not give the right to work and we are unable to transfer money to them. What is to be done?
– We hear that some students engage in thefts, robberies or drug trafficking but this should come as no surprise as they have no money!
There have been longstanding problems transferring money outside Turkmenistan and accessing funds from Turkmen banks in other countries, causing significant problems for students.
After these concerns were raised, the meeting was rapidly shut down after promises that the parents would get answers to their questions within 10 days.
Will they get their answers?
It doesn’t look promising. Chronicles of Turkmenistan goes on to note that parents at an earlier meeting had raised similar questions about the low money transfer limits in their province. They were told that:
…the restriction is related to the fact that “the region makes the smallest contribution to the country’s economy” and advised them to “resolve their problems on their own”.
The response to those parents who spoke up at the recent meeting may well be along the same lines.
Хотите знать по больше о моем исследовании на русском языке? Читайте дальше! Вышло на свет русский перевод стати о нашем с руководителем проекте о глобалной конкуренции за международных студентов. Ну вот, статья на русском.
This blog post is letting Russian language readers know about a new Russian translation of an article my supervisor wrote about our project on the global competition for international students. Don’t read Russian? No problem: here’s the article in English!
И для тех, которые умеют читать на обеих languages, let me know ваши мнения about both versions!
The original article that this more recent version draws from is published as The great brain race: Public policy and international student recruitment in Australia, Canada, England and the USA. (In English only unless someone would like to volunteer to translate it…)
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!
Sá, Creso M. 2018. “Forget the Competition Trope.” International Higher Education 0 (95): 11–12.
If you’re the Kazakh state, the answer is an obvious “yes”. No details have yet to emerge from the Centre for International Programmes, the government agency tasked with internationalizing Kazakh higher education, but you can bet that if the public policy agenda is leading in this direction, it won’t be long before the hub becomes a reality.
Higher education hubs have been successfully created in the Middle East (Dubai is a great example) and South-East Asia (Malaysia is another success story), and create special spaces for foreign universities to set up a branch campus or partner with a local university. Thus, students in the hub country and its neighbours can study for an overseas degree without leaving the region.
This has many advantages for students – hub-based campuses tend to offer a similar quality of education for a fraction of the regular tuition fee ticket, and with all the benefits of not having to travel far.
For the host country, acting as a hub can bring economic benefit by attracting more international students and staff/faculty, and enhance the country’s reputation through the legitimacy generated by the international universities. For Kazakhstan, reputation really matters and I imagine this would be seen by the state as a major benefit to creating an education hub.
This year, 14,000 international students are already studying in Kazakhstan, mainly coming from neighbouring countries. At the same time, 70,000 Kazakh students are studying abroad – not quite 10% of the total student population of a little under 650,000 – and there are plans to make the renowned Bolashak Scholarship more accessible in the coming years.
Interestingly, it was neighbouring Kyrgyzstan that until recently seemed the most likely Central Asian country to set up a regional education hub. In the 2000s, Kyrgyzstan was hosting up to ten times more international students each year than Kazakhstan, despite a population seven times smaller.
A 2012 study by Nurbek Jenish found that relatively low tuition fees and a low cost of living were the main reasons that international students head to Kyrgyzstan. International students – mainly from Central and South Asian countries – also perceived the quality of higher education and the opportunity to study in Russian or English to be beneficial, as well as the perception that admission requirements were soft.
But it is dynamic Kazakhstan that now appears to be running with the hub idea. This is not just because of the economic and reputational benefits, although those are evidently highly influential policy considerations. As Zhanbolat Meldeshov, President of the Centre for International Programs, pithily puts it:
«Студенческая и академическая мобильность, это мировой тренд в эпоху глобализации. Нельзя остановить этот процесс, можно только в нем активно участвовать.»
“Student and academic mobility is a global trend in the era of globalization. It’s impossible to stop this process, so you can only actively participate.”
This is another classic example of Kazakhstani policy pragmatism: if you can’t beat them, join them… and ultimately seek to beat them at their own game.
Who leaves Tajikistan to study abroad, and why?
Where do these students go, and what do they study?
What are their post-study destinations?
These are some of the questions I address in my new essay on Tajikistan’s international students, out today in Higher Education in Russia & Beyond (HERB).
As I conclude, studying abroad can be a profoundly transformational experience. Many of the people that participated in the research I am reporting on said they had changed greatly as a result of their experiences.
This feeling is neatly encapsulated by the words of one respondent:
“I am so much [a] different person now than I was back then. Education here has broadened my mind to the things that I had no idea of their existence and as I grow in possessing my knowledge I see the opportunities that I can get, and the things that I can do in my life and with my life. I am [a] much happier person now than I was before.”
This issue of HERB looks holistically at international students across the former Soviet space, and I encourage you to take a look at the other essays in this collection.
Higher Education in Russia & Beyond 2(12) – link to whole issue
For me, the most interesting stories are:
- The mismatch between the funding that the state is making available to students, and the courses they want to study
- The continuing popularity of computing-related and social sciences subjects
- The huge growth in the number of international students from India and Kazakhstan, and the parallel crash in the Uzbek student body
For non-Russian readers, a translation is below.
Emma’s English translation…
Which courses did students choose this year, what do the brightest want to be come and which professions does the state need?
Image 1 (light background)
Left: courses for which the government provided the most scholarship places – physics/maths, philology (a combination of literary criticism, history and linguistics), medicine
Right: most popular courses (by enrolment statistics) – economics, law, medicine
38,275 students enrolled in 2015, compared to 38,259 in 2014.
Image 2 (dark blue background)
4,868 students received state funding in 2015; 3,415 students received state funding on the basis of their results in the nationwide admissions exams (ORT in Russian acronym) in 2015. The median score in the ORT was 150,8 to get a state scholarship.
33,407 students are self-funding in 2015. Their median ORT score was 133,2.
Which courses were most popular amongst those scoring highest on the ORT?
|Average score||Highest score|
|State funded places|
|Medicine and related||185||230|
|Software and programming||202,4||234|
|International and comparative politics||170||197|
|International and business law||168,8||223|
How many state funded places were offered in 2015?
5,441 divided between 24 universities. The highest number of places (615) went to the Kyrgyz State Technical University; the lowest (62) to the Kyrgyz Republic National Academy of Arts. The average tuition fee is 33,000 som (USD$430) compared to 30,000 last year.
Number of foreign students studying in Kyrgyzstan in 2014/15
The yellow to green indicator at the top is for countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States; the pink to red indicator at the bottom is for other countries. The graphs below show an increase from around 3,000 to 4,800 from Kazakhstan during the period 2009/10 to 2014/15 and a huge drop – from 6,000 to 600 from Uzbekistan. The biggest increase from outside the former Soviet region is from India, where student numbers have grown from around 500 to nearly 2,500.
I recently started a new job as Registrar at St Antony’s College, which is part of the University of Oxford. Each student at the University is a member of a College, and the College provides residential, pastoral and social facilities as well as providing teaching (for undergraduate students) and a base for researchers, seminars, conferences and so on. Many Colleges accept both undergraduate and postgraduate students whilst mine is one of seven postgrad-only Colleges. We specialise in international relations, politics, economics and history of particular parts of the world. St Antony’s is unique in that we host seven centres, each focussing on a different part of the world. Our student community is very international – around 85% of our students are from outside the UK. We also have a high number of visiting researchers, who come to work with our fellows as well as use the College’s fantastic library and academic/social resources.
One of the (many) things I like about St Antony’s is its cosmopolitan nature. Just yesterday I met with one of our former students from Chile, who is now head of the Chilean athletics team! Today I’ve been in touch with people in Norway, Pakistan as well as down the road in London, to name just a few places. Come the autumn term, there will be regular seminars on aspects of life and society around the world.
The international character of the College can be hugely beneficial for our student community, but it also leads me to thinking about how we integrate our students and what steps we can take to help them settle into life in the UK. Students who are new to the UK (and let’s not talk about the particular quirks of Oxford’s way of doing some things!) can have queries that range from big (help me with my student visa) to mundane (where can I buy bed sheets). What can my office – as well as the other student support services in College – do to make the path as smooth as we can for our students? And once we’ve done that, what we can we do to enhance their experience of being in Oxford, but without impinging on their main priority, which is to study?
Elisabeth Gareis has an interesting article in University World News this week looking at an aspect of the second question. She has investigated friendships between international students and host nationals, pointing out the positive effects such friendships can have: improved language skills, greater levels of well-being, enriched perspectives in the classroom and so on. However, the reality is that these kinds of friendships don’t exist as much as they should/could, and Gareis offers some good suggestions for institutions to help facilitate this.
She is absolutely right, though, to point out that ‘accountability also lies with the students themselves’. It’s hard work being an international student (I’ve been one myself and can testify to this!): continually putting in more effort than if you were studying in your home country and often dealing with cultural adjustments as well as changes to your study environment. But ultimately the experience you will have abroad will be much richer and more positive if you can make that extra effort to integrate yourself.
Nevertheless, the burden should not fall entirely on the international student. Host national students also need to try much harder to get on with their international colleagues. A Tajik friend of mine recently returned from studying in the US and said she didn’t make any American friends, and that is not for want of trying. At a recent Society for Research into Higher Education seminar, Paulo Pimentel Bótas of the University of Bath pointed out that UK students are often less well prepared to critically reflect on their own work than Chinese students brought up with the Confucian style of self-criticism before criticism of others. As such, host nationals can learn as much from nationals of other countries as international students themselves can learn – but the major challenge is to enthuse and engage home students to do that.
If you have examples of steps you have taken to integrate yourself as an international student, or things you have done as a home student to help international students, I’d love to hear about them.