Mapping global student mobility

A new interactive map

University World News has a piece on a new UNESCO interactive map on global student mobility which shows the inflows and outflows of mobile students across the world.

East Asia and the Pacific is the largest source of international students, representing 28% of the world’s 3.6 million mobile students in 2010. Central Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa have the most mobile students, and several countries have more students abroad than at home.

These facts are highlighted in a new “Global Flow of Tertiary-level Students” interactive map published by the UNESCO institute of Statistics (UIS) in Canada last month.

“The surge in internationally mobile students reflects the rapid expansion of enrolment in higher education globally, which has grown by 78% in a decade,” says the UIS, which defines ‘internationally mobile students’ as those who have crossed a national border to study or are enrolled in a distance learning programme abroad.

Some of the data seems a bit strange though. For example, it seems that the UK sends no students at all to China (which cannot be the case) and sends the same number of students to Malaysia as to the Vatican.

It’s a really good piece of work and quite diverting. What will be even more interesting is mapping changes in these student movements over time.

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The Shape of Things to Come – Going Global 2012

The shape of things to come: global trends and emerging opportunities to 2022

I was privileged to chair this session at the British Council’s Going Global event on 15 March:

Over the next five to ten years, which will be the countries with fastest growing higher education systems? Which countries will have environments rich in opportunities for student mobility; for cross-border education provision; and for collaborative research? The new research from the British Council begins to provide answers to these questions. It reveals the new big emerging markets for international students, along with those countries that will be most open for international collaboration in teaching and research. Earlier British Council studies found that the number of students seeking to study overseas depends heavily on family income and the number of students enrolled in domestic higher education. It now depends more on trade links, cost of living and tuition, and exchange rates between the respective countries. The Global Education Opportunities Index maps the economic growth projections and demographic indicators across countries, along with global trade links, to highlight the areas where most opportunities will emerge for international collaboration and student mobility. Dr Janet Ilieva provides an overview of the approach taken and the research methodology, and presents the main findings. The expert panel from UNESCO Institute for Statistics and the OECD then debate the relevance of the opportunities and the implications of this research.

Janet Ilieva delivered an excellent presentation setting out the details of the combination of demographic and economic drivers which will re-shape the global higher education landscape – the data, evidence and forecasts which will be needed by institutions to enable them to address opportunities for student mobility, TNE and collaborative research.

The presentation covered

  • Globally mobile students
  • The internationalisation of research
  • Business collaboration
  • Opportunities for global engagement

Chiao-Ling Chien of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and Richard Yelland from the OECD responded with some important additional comments too with the latter noting that we also need to pay proper attention to the other 98% of non-mobile students.

Whilst the content delivered represented significant progress and valuable information, the concerns from the audience largely related to the quality, consistency and timeliness of data.

The video of Janet’s presentation and her slides can be found here. Do have a look. Overall, it was fascinating stuff and a real honour to participate.

The report from which the data was drawn will be published soon. In the meantime University World News carried some of the information contained in it and in Janet’s presentation with the headlines being the slowdown in the growth of higher education enrolments and the impact of economic changes on the HE landscape. First the demographics:

The largest higher education systems are likely to be China with some 37 million students, India with 28 million, the US with 20 million and Brazil with nine million.

However higher education, currently one of the fastest growing sectors globally, is predicted to experience a significant slowdown in the rate of growth in enrolments in the coming decades.

This is according to the report The Shape of Things to Come: Higher education global trends and emerging opportunities to 2020, drawn up for the British Council by Oxford Economics. It is to be published officially next month, but a preview was released ahead of the British Council’s “Going Global” conference being held in London from 13-15 March.

The study forecasts enrolments to grow by 21 million students by 2020 – a huge rise in overall numbers and an average growth rate of 1.4% per year across 50 selected countries that account for almost 90% of higher education enrolments globally.

But this represents a considerable slowdown compared to the 5% a year global enrolment growth typical of the previous two decades, and record enrolment growth of almost 6% between 2002 and 2009.

Tertiary enrolments have grown by 160% globally since 1990, or by some 170 million new students.

This slowing in growth “should be expected with the sector maturing or slowing in some markets, and demographic trends no longer as favourable as a result of declining birth rates over the last 20 to 30 years,” says the report.

rowth in enrolments in China are predicted to fall from a 17 million increase to five million, according to the report’s projections. India’s tertiary enrolment growth overall is forecast to outpace China’s during the period.

“This does not take into account the political ambitions and aspirations of these countries,” said Janet Illieva, the British Council’s head of research, who will be presenting some of the research findings at the “Going Global” conference this week.

“If India manages to double participation rates in the next five years, this will be a phenomenal increase,” she said, referring to Indian government plans to increase gross enrolments from 17% of the cohort now to around 30% in the next decade.

Economic growth fuels enrolments

Over the last 20 years, growth in global higher education enrolments and internationally mobile students has closely followed world trade growth and has far outpaced world economic growth.

“What is changing is GDP (economic wealth), and economic growth which has a very significant impact on tertiary enrolment,” Illieva told University World News.

A country’s average wealth is seen as a clear driver of future tertiary education demand. “Not only is the relationship positive and statistically significant, but perhaps more importantly, at low GDP per capita levels, gross tertiary enrolment ratios tend to increase quickly for relatively small increases in GDP per capita,” the report says.

Around half the 50 countries studied currently have GDP per capita levels below US$10,000 a year. “Provided these economies grow strongly over the next decade, as many are forecast to, there is significant scope for their tertiary enrolment ratios to increase.”

But despite strong economic growth, many of the shortlisted economies are forecast to still have GDP per capita (adjusted for purchasing power parity) below US$10,000 in 2020 – including Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, India, Morocco, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

This is likely to constrain how quickly these countries close the gap in enrolment rates compared to advanced economies. But it also means continued rises in enrolment ratios and strong growth in tertiary education demand beyond 2020.

“Where income is below US$10,000 a year, a proportional increase in income results in a much higher rise in the rate of enrolments than you would expect,” said Illieva.

Things really are changing. Look forward to seeing the full report when it is published.

Auditing University Rankings

Holding league tables to account?

The Chronicle reports that there are to be some new rules to govern university league tables. The proposals were announced recently in Paris at the Unesco Global Forum, “Rankings and Accountability in Higher Education: Uses and Misuses.” This Forum, which gave voice to lots of concerns about ranking methodologies, concluded with the adoption of some “Audit Rules”:

The new Ranking Audit Rules were adopted by the executive committee of the International Ranking Expert Group’s (or IREG’s) Observatory on Ranking and Excellence, which announced that it was working on an evaluation system, or audit, at its meeting last fall in Berlin.


“The purpose of an audit, conducted by independent academic teams, will be to verify if a ranking under review was done professionally, and observes good practices, providing students, their parents and employers with information allowing them to compare and assess programs offered by higher-education institutions,” according to the ranking group’s press release.

Rankings will be reviewed on a voluntary basis and any rankings organization can ask to be audited. Those that pass what the group describes as its “robust evaluation” will be able to certify their ranking system as “IREG approved.” The new audit system, for which the first results will be published this fall, is intended to “enhance the transparency of rankings, give users of rankings a tool to identify trustworthy rankings, and improve the quality of rankings.”

So, will the league table compilers submit themselves to this regime? And will the designation “IREG approved” have any currency?