Autumn 2001

ISSN 1473-219X





Student Mobility on the Map: Tertiary Education Interchange on the Threshold of the 21st Century. Report of a joint Working Group of The Council for Education in the Commonwealth and UKCOSA: The Council for International Education. Published by UKCOSA, July 2000, ISBN 1 870679 33 4, 86pp, £20.00

This report examines issues arising from the mobility of Commonwealth tertiary students. The first study of its kind for seven years, it seeks to influence government policy in Commonwealth countries by identifying patterns in student mobility and making recommendations for the promotion of student mobility across the Commonwealth. It is the outcome of a joint working group set up by The Council for Education in the Commonwealth and UKCOSA: The Council for International Education.

The report identifies student mobility as being increasingly significant as an agent of knowledge mobility. The increasing significance of globalisation and the knowledge economy requires a re-examination of the international role of higher education. This debate also needs to inform developments in online learning. Interestingly, the historical international links encapsulated by the Commonwealth are still a significant influence on the choice of destination country for higher education students. Rising by 76% between 1990 and 1996, Intra-Commonwealth student mobility accounted for 11.6% of global student mobility by 1996.

Whilst overall levels of mobility within the Commonwealth have shown a healthy increase, the report identifies a number of more worrying trends when a more fine-grained analysis is undertaken. Almost all the increase in mobility has been as a result of the success of Australia and the UK in recruiting additional international students. The number of Commonwealth students studying in Canada and India actually declined over the period of question. So, rather than a genuine and arguably healthy exchange of students there is a significant net flow of students to a small number of Commonwealth countries. The report acknowledges that this could be the cause of a possible ‘brain-drain’.

An additional concern is that Commonwealth students studying in Australia, Canada and the UK come from a very limited range of home countries. 61% come from just four: Brunei Darussalam, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore. In characterising these complex home-destination relationships, the study makes considerable use of the UNDP’s Human Development Index. Rather than relying on just economic growth this index combines economic and social factors to give a more balanced ‘well-being’ index of a countries development. The major factors in the index are health (eg, longevity, nutrition, etc), knowledge (eg, literacy) and resources (eg, adjusted GDP per head, taxation, etc). Countries are classified as High-HDI, Medium-HDI, Low-HDI or unclassified (usually very small territories).

Using this categorisation, the study, unsurprisingly, concludes that students from low-HDI countries have very restricted opportunities to travel to and study in medium and high-HDI countries. Most interchange occurs between high/medium-HDI countries. The report also concludes that ‘borderless learning’ is having a significant impact but that it will have a complementary role and will not replace the physical mobility of students.
The report’s recommendations are aimed at a range of policy makers. Specific recommendations are made to Commonwealth governments collectively, individual Commonwealth governments and, additionally, a further set of recommendations to the UK Government. The recommendations are primarily aimed at increasing support for international students within the destination country and raising awareness of the issue amongst development policy makers.

Student Mobility on the Map is of primary interest to education policy makers, managers and administrators. It is a comprehensive, in-depth analysis that is backed by a strong set of statistical data. In addition to its value to education professionals it may be that anybody with an interest in the current operation of Commonwealth links will find this report very interesting.

Peter Dean
University of Luton

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