Student mobility continues to boost speed of change

Student mobility continues to boost speed of change

This week is ending and, with it, so is the Conference Conversation Starter blog series. As we feel Glasgow getting closer, the excitement about the near future grows. But what about the long-term perspective for international higher education? Where is it all going? You may just find some answers in this thought-provoking closing blog post about the trends that have been dominating our field and where they are likely to lead.

Consider the fact that, globally, there are now more than 200 million students enrolled in higher education, compared to 47 million in 1980. Enrolments in higher education are projected to exceed 660 million by 2040. This would represent 10% of the world’s population aged 15–79 by 2040, compared to 4% in 2012. The speed of change in higher education will remain unabated over the next 25 to 40 years.

Thinking about the future or considering possibilities for one’s country, world region or sphere of activity is useful in that it equips individuals with the ability to purposefully respond to unforeseen events. Those involved in international education need to be cognisant of past and current trends, plan over the medium to long term, and not to overreact to unexpected events and developments (eg currency fluctuations, government regulation). To the extent that institutions are equipped to deal with uncertainty, they will be in a position to adjust their internationalisation strategies as circumstances require.

The scenarios or possibilities on the future global flows of knowledge and mobility that accompany the essay in the 2015 Conference Conversation Starter were developed over a two year period, taking into consideration the drivers of change and mega trends that are influencing higher education globally. These scenarios are an update to the author’s estimates released in 2010 during the Institutional Management in Higher Education OECD General Conference.

Many argue that the world of higher education is in flux, while some predict that a considerable number of traditional universities are likely to collapse as a consequence of emerging technologies, new models of educational delivery and even new models of institutions or entities. The worldwide reality is that the number of higher education institutions is not decreasing. For example, between 1990 and 2010, higher education institutions in the United States increased by 29% – from 3559 in 1990 to 4599 in 2010 (US Department of Education, 2013). Worldwide, in 2015, there are more than 21 000 higher education institutions. While institutional mergers and blended models are emerging, a total institutional collapse is not occurring. Higher education is, however, changing due to rapid technological transformation, demographic shifts, urbanisation, globalisation, geopolitical shifts, and the scarcity of resources.

Changing dynamics of international education

Over the next few decades, higher education will continue on a path of unparalleled transformation, invariably at different speeds depending on the ecosystem in which it operates. The rates of participation will continue to rise, particularly in emerging and developing countries. These developments bode well for international student mobility, although it is estimated that growth will occur at a lower rate compared to the boom years (late 1990s–mid 2000s).

Depending on global dynamics, the projected rate of growth for the year 2040 in the number of internationally mobile students enrolled in higher education could be anywhere from 9.1 million (low growth) to 12.3 million (medium growth) to 15.7 million (high growth).

More and more countries see education as a critical service industry, one that is to be exploited. International educational hubs, international education free zones as well as international branch campuses are emerging across all continents. Singapore, Malaysia and Qatar, among several, have consolidated their standing as global hosts of international students. While countries like Sri Lanka, Botswana and Mauritius are seeking to develop capacity to attract thousands of international students.

Will Asia continue to be the main sender?

Asia will definitely remain the main sender of students abroad well into the half of the 21st century. The proportion of internationally mobile students from East Asia and the Pacific region could be between 43% and 47% of total outbound mobility. Increasingly, there will be a greater number of internationally mobile students from South and West Asia – there has already been an increase from 7% in 2000 to 10% in 2012 – and these could rise to 14% or 15% by 2040.

Which world region follows Asia?

That is an interesting proposition because demographic and other drivers of change may produce a different outcome as to which world region follows. Consider Central and Eastern Europe as the next region poised to be the top third global region sender of international students. Time will tell whether the Arab states will exceed North America and Western Europe in the volume of international students abroad.

Where does it leave the other world regions?

Sub-Saharan Africa could well exceed the Latin America and the Caribbean region in the number of students abroad. Again, depending on the world dynamics, things could end up being different, considering that Central Asia is also a region poised for economic growth. Should countries and regions with vast natural resources embark upon long-term positioning, including the use of political reforms, they are likely to reap significant rewards in the global knowledge economy.

Long term planning may not be in everyone’s radar but anticipating how these mega trends unfold is fundamental to shaping institutional efforts in the short to medium term planning. Consider that the loss of a market like China, India or Brazil, by 2040, will not be replaced by a single market, but rather several.

Angel Calderon is Principal Advisor in Planning and Research at RMIT University, Melbourne.

If you’re joining us in Glasgow, you’ll receive a hard copy on-site, but you can already sneak a peek at the full book by downloading it from My Conference. See you there!

If you are an EAIE member, you can always download the Conference Conversation Starter from the Member Centre

Remember to stay tuned as we cover conference highlights on the blog starting next week!

Angel Calderon
Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, AustraliaAngel Calderon is the Principal advisor of institutional research and planning at RMIT University