By Michael Peak, British Council

04 May 2016 - 14:03

Malaysia has created an environment in which it can realise its ambition to be an international higher education hub. Photo (c) Jorge Láscar, licensed under CC BY 2.0 and adapted from the original.
Malaysia has created an environment in which it can be an international higher education hub. Photo ©

Jorge Láscar, licensed under CC BY 2.0 and adapted from the original.

New research on national education policy in 26 countries was released this week to show how open each country is to international higher education. The British Council's Michael Peak talks us through the highlights.

Did any of the research surprise you?

It's perhaps a surprise to see that Malaysia is one of only two countries that, according to their policies and regulations, offer a high level of support for international collaboration across all areas of our research. It's a sign that Malaysia has created an environment in which it can realise its ambition to be an international higher education hub.

What about other countries in Asia?

Countries like China, Indonesia, and Vietnam are often seen as ‘senders’ of international students and researchers, and ‘hosts’ of international branch campuses and transnational education. But they also pay attention to the effects of internationalisation on their own expanding higher education systems.

Some of these countries make sure that these effects are in their long-term interest by investing in international collaboration between researchers, and by helping students and researchers flow in and out. Others are encouraging their citizens to learn additional languages, and have policies to prevent the increased amount of international students from reducing the number of university places for less well-off or marginalised domestic students.

Which countries did best overall?

Malaysia and Germany have the most balanced portfolio of policies. Both give a huge amount of support to each of the study's three main categories.

These were openness (does the country prioritise international higher education? Does it have international ambition?); quality assurance and recognition (does the country have the regulatory infrastructure to realise that ambition?); and access and sustainability (has it considered the potential negative consequences of internationalisation? Are its plans sustainable?).

Some countries score higher in specific areas. Australia has the most ‘open’ policy environment for international higher education engagement. The UK has an infrastructure and regulatory system that smooths the way for international collaboration. China scores highest on equal access and sustainable funding. But when it comes to a balanced policy environment across the board, Malaysia and Germany are top of the class.

What can universities do if their governments are unenthusiastic? 

Most governments recognise the benefits of international higher education. But local and regional sensitivities, plus other national priorities, can present challenges.

Indeed, there can even be negative connotations to the term ‘internationalisation’ itself. In many countries within Sub-Saharan Africa, the term can be connected with potential adverse consequences such as ‘brain drain’, in which bright students leave the country to study abroad, but never return home, taking their talent and qualifications with them.

Because of these sensitivities, some governments can be wary of pushing too hard. But the institutions in these countries may still be keen to develop overseas links.

The good news is, they can band together to do this. In South Africa, there's the International Education Association of South Africa (IEASA). In Colombia, there's a similar organisation called Challenge Your Knowledge. There are also regional networks such as the African Network for Internationalisation of Education. So it is possible, even when the political outlook is delicate; it may just be that universities have to work much harder.

What is the best thing that universities and countries can do, if they want to be more international?

Work collaboratively. Or, if you're in government, put in place systems and policies that make it easier for universities to do this.

The research, The shape of global higher education, is available as an interactive page called Global Gauge.

Find out more on National policies: impact on international engagement, a session at the British Council's Going Global conference in Cape Town, South Africa, on 4 May 2016.

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