Guest post: Erin Nordal, Executive Committee, European Students’ Union
The internationalization of higher education has become a reality for many, with a systematic increase in both shorter-term student mobility and full-degree mobility in many parts of the world. This plays a key role in enhancing intercultural competencies and understanding, and ultimately enhances the quality of higher education through the introduction of global perspectives in curricula.
As an umbrella organization for 47 national unions of students in 39 countries, the European Students’ Union (ESU) represents over 11 million students in Europe. Internationalization is a main area in our work in representing and promoting students’ social, economic and cultural interests.
Key internationalization issues for ESU involve balancing student mobility flows, making mobility a real possibility for all students through improved access strategies, implementing full portability of student financial support and increasing the amount of financial support given to mobile students, as well as guaranteeing the fair and equal treatment of international students.
The last point is often linked with a principle discussion about the motivations and financing of the internationalization of higher education. Fundamental to all of our work is the active engagement and recognition of students as essential stakeholders in the governance of higher education.
Global responsibility and student mobility
A real commitment to balancing student mobility flows is vital for ensuring a long-term, sustainable internationalization of higher education. The European Students’ Union is strongly opposed to the removal of a country’s most talented knowledge communities. Governments and institutions must take responsibility for reducing the risks of brain drain, both within the European community and outside of it.
Achieving this involves establishing agreements between countries, as well as within and between regions. These agreements must set the necessary boundaries and specify responsibilities in generating a fair and even internationalization that promotes quality in higher education and a viable future for all parts of the world.
Access and support for international students
Mobility must be a real opportunity for all students, not something that is reserved for the elite few. Currently, international students’ backgrounds unfortunately play a shockingly large role in determining whether they will be able to participate in studying abroad. For example, according to data from the European Commission, the percentage of students with disabilities participating in the Erasmus program in 2009-2010 was only 0.12% (257 students).
The number one barrier for student mobility is lack of financial support. At a very minimum, ESU believes international students must receive the full amount of support they would be provided in their home countries. Ministers of the countries involved in the Bologna Process promised this in 2005, yet according to the Bologna status report from 2012, only Croatia, Cyprus, Finland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland report no restrictions on students receiving support to study abroad.
With international student mobility being one of the cornerstones of the Bologna Process and one of the engines for establishing European cooperation in higher education, it is a great disappointment to see so few efforts for change within these past eight years. The costs of moving abroad and the potential increase in living costs must also be accounted for in national student financial support systems. Ministers in every Bologna country must follow up on their commitments and change this situation immediately if they are to achieve their goal of 20% of those graduating in the EHEA having spent time studying or training abroad by 2020.
Removing barriers for student mobility also means designing programs that allow for more accessibility; ensuring accessibility measures are in place for international students with disabilities, support for students with families and short-term mobility programs; as well as guaranteeing students full and timely recognition of their studies abroad by having reliable recognition procedures in place.
The goal must be to ‘mirror’ the diversity of the general population in the population of students going abroad. We have a long way to go in knocking down mobility barriers to achieve this goal.
Motivations for the internationalization of higher education
Just as ministers committed to in the Bologna Process, ESU is likewise committed to the principle of higher education as a public good and a public responsibility, and is therefore strongly opposed to tuition fees. This principle also applies to international students. International students are not to be seen as ‘cash cows’, and the internationalization of higher education should never be implemented as a profit-generating mechanism.
Unfortunately, some countries and institutions have perverted motivations for internationalization, and fail to realize the damaging effects this has for higher education as a whole. True internationalization, where different perspectives are included in the curriculum and inter-cultural competence is developed, demands a diverse group of incoming students. Tuition fees limit mobility to those who are capable of paying to study, where the size of a student’s or their parent’s wallet is the determining factor for studying abroad either in Europe or elsewhere in the world.
Strategies for the internationalization of higher education
ESU and its member unions are committed to the development and implementation of international strategies, but this also demands that we are involved in these processes. As a part of the academic community, students must be treated as an equal part in all decision-making processes at all levels within institutions and on institutional, national and regional level.
We are also witnessing an increasing amount of decision-making processes occurring at a global level. This must occur together with the participation of the entire group of stakeholders within the academic community, including students, as well as academic and administrative staff.
Erin Nordal is an elected representative in the executive committee of the European Students’ Union, where she has responsibility for matters of quality and the internationalization of higher education. Erin grew up and began her university studies in Minneapolis (Minnesota, US) before moving to Norway. She is currently taking a Masters of Philosophy at the University of Oslo.
Have your say! What do you think are the most important issues in the internationalization of higher education? Should all students be given financial support to study anywhere in the world? Have you encountered any barriers to studying abroad?
Share your opinions and experiences in the comments below.