Worldwide Student Mobility and After-Study Lives: the Portability and Prospects of Overseas Education
Today, international student mobility has moved from unorganised or self-organised study abroad to a variety of mobility forms organised within programmes. It has also become an issue of economic competitiveness, like attracting best talent, wealth creation and brain drain. Apart from the sheer numbers of incoming and outgoing students, the flows of mobility have been of interest as well.
To collect international experiences through spending a limited period of study abroad during the course of a programme of study has become a rather normal and frequent event for European students. Mobility is supposed to serve at least two basic goals of higher education which are deemed important: first point is International experiences help to develop the personality by broadening the horizon of the individual student and provide him or her with sufficient flexibility and cultural as well as social knowledge to be able to adapt to unfamiliar situations and to act appropriately. Second point is International experiences also help to gain a number of qualifications—beyond an improved knowledge of a foreign language—that contribute to later employment ability and perhaps a career in an international context. Just as important as sending one’s own students abroad has become the issue of receiving students from abroad, again two basic goals are connected to it: first one is majority of students’ remains that cannot or will not go abroad. They are given the opportunity of getting to know foreign cultures by mingling with students from abroad at their home university. Internationalisation at home is the term used in Europe for this. It is hoped that students from abroad will develop a closer connection to the country in which they spent part of their studies and that they will favour companies from this country for investment opportunities in their home countries after their return and during their subsequent careers.
Individual institutions of higher education as well as individual countries have interpreted the number of foreign students they attract as an indicator for the attractiveness and reputation of their educational provisions. All over the world institutions having the reputation to be centres of excellence attract more applications from foreign students than other higher education institutions. Many actively advertise their services and provisions in order to select the best talent from other countries. This has led to specific mobility flows, which tend to be from East to West and from South to North. This type of mobility has been termed vertical mobility, i.e. students from poorer regions and countries decide to study in countries or at universities in which they hope to get a better education than the one provided in their home country.
Analyses of international mobility of European graduates have shown that on average between four and five percent of higher education graduates in Europe work abroad. But this does not necessarily mean brain drain for these graduates’ countries of origin. Many of these graduates do not emigrate for good but eventually return to their home countries. In addition, we have to consider that the differences between mobile and non-mobile graduates are predominantly of a horizontal nature, in that mobile graduates make more frequent use of their knowledge about other countries, their understanding of the international diversity of cultures and societies, their foreign language proficiency, and their ability to work with people from different backgrounds. Thus, we can indeed say that international student mobility contributes to human development and global understanding. All students who are willing to be mobile could have an opportunity to study abroad. If mobility becomes a normal option in all programmes of study, then brain drain and uneven geographical balances of mobility flows with their implications of vertical mobility will play a lesser role politically and economically than they do currently.