Heading in the same direction?
Within Europe, national policies on international student mobility are influenced by European-level policies, developed by the European Commission or in the framework of the Bologna Process. Does this mean that national policies on student mobility in Europe are converging? And if so, in which ways?
These are some of the questions addressed in a new study, called European and national policies for academic mobility. Linking rhetoric, practice and mobility trends. The study was led and published by the Academic Cooperation Association (ACA), and undertaken in collaboration with Nuffic and DAAD. The report offers:
- analyses of European-level mobility policies;
- a comparative overview of national mobility policies within Europe;
- detailed case studies of national policies in Austria, Cyprus, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Spain and the United Kingdom.
Looking at the 32 countries that participate in the Erasmus programme, we see that the breadth and depth of national-level mobility policies varies. The study also found several converging policy developments.
Types of mobility and rationales
Of the different types of mobility, most European countries prioritise outgoing credit mobility since this is expected to increase the employability of home students. Incoming degree mobility is also given priority, mainly to increase the attractiveness and competitiveness of the domestic higher education system. Countries that prioritise incoming degree mobility share a common focus on master and doctoral levels, probably because higher-level students are more likely to contribute to the development of a knowledge society and economy.
Incoming credit mobility and outgoing degree mobility are hardly mentioned in policy documents. Incoming credit mobility helps to internationalise the classroom, but it is probably not mentioned explicitly since it is expected to happen automatically within the Erasmus exchange programme. The lack of emphasis on outgoing degree mobility in national policy documents is not surprising because home countries do not necessarily gain anything if their students undertake their full degree abroad (and possibly remain abroad to work on completion of their studies).
In most Erasmus countries, national mobility policies are based on the idea that the more international student mobility, the better. There is a diverging policy discourse, though. In some countries, namely the Netherlands, Belgium (Wallonia) and Austria, there are concerns about the high inbound mobility from neighbouring countries, and an increasing wish to find a better balance between inbound and outbound mobility. For background details on the Dutch case, see an earlier Nuffic blog.
The study also looked at the geographical focus of mobility strategies. National policy documents frequently mention the European Higher Education Area, North America, Asia and “neighbouring countries” as target areas for international student mobility. At the same time, the documents rarely specify which types of mobility (incoming or outgoing; and credit or full degree mobility) are to be undertaken with which region. Perhaps not surprisingly, countries that are keen to attract high fee-paying students from outside of the European Union (EU) / European Economic Area (EEA), such as the UK, are diverging, with a strong focus on non-EU/EEA student recruitment.
More and more national governments are setting mobility targets. However, in most cases these targets are vague. When targets are mentioned, they are often not related to specific types of mobility. There may be a national target of ensuring that 20% of home students are internationally mobile by 2015, but does this include both credit and degree mobility? And is this 20% of an age cohort or 20% of the total number of students enrolled in higher education in the country? In the latter case, we are talking about a much larger size in terms of the number of students studying abroad. The vagueness of the targets means that they have little value in guiding national policies.
Many governments have put instruments in place to encourage international student mobility, although there are small differences (see the report for interesting details). There are several common policy measures, including enhanced provision of information and promotion of international student mobility and recruitment, mutual recognition of credits and degrees, and the provision of scholarships.
A final thought
As can probably be expected, in Erasmus countries, national policies on international student mobility show both convergences and divergences. Despite European policy frameworks, Erasmus countries are not necessarily heading in exactly the same directions, in the same ways. There may be similarities in policy directions, but no linear path of development that all countries follow. And of course, institutional strategies and targets may not exactly fit into national strategies. So in practice, we may find even more divergence when institutional-level policies are taken into account.
Interested? Please read the report and let us know your comments.