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Friday, March 11, 2016, 11:03

Pupils of the world

By Karl Wilson in Sydney
Pupils of the world
Dong Yuling, a 23-year-old Chinese undergraduate at the University of Sydney, represents a growing trend of students studying outside their home country. (Provided to China Daily Asia Weekly)

Dong Yuling is a 23-year-old student from the northern Chinese province of Shanxi currently studying app design at the University of Sydney in Australia.

Just down the road, at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), another Chinese student, Chen Shulin, 25, is working on a PhD examining wireless technology.

Among students around the world, they are part of a growing trend to study outside their home country. It is a trend, especially among Chinese and Indian students, that is accelerating.

“It’s about exposing yourself to different cultures … broadening your mind,” Dong told China Daily Asia Weekly.

She sees this period of her life not only as a starting point in her education, but as a stage in building a close network of friends.

A network from a number of different countries, she said, will be crucial in her later working life.

Chen said his long term goal is to become an academic at an Australian university, where he can gain expertise before eventually returning to China and continuing his research.

Chen also sees a great deal of value in studying overseas, gaining knowledge and making valuable contacts for future research projects.

Today there are an estimated 4.5 million international students just like Dong and Chen globally. That’s up from 2 million in 2000, according to a recent report by The Economist.

That figure is expected to rise to 8 million by 2025, driven by population and income growth that’s occurring mostly in the developing world.

Elite universities like Oxford and Cambridge in the United Kingdom and Ivy League universities such as Harvard, Princeton and Yale in the United States will all continue to attract the world’s brightest minds.

Tertiary education, however, has been undergoing a seismic shift over the last ten years. Academic partnerships have grown alongside franchises, with the opening of branch campuses and joint research facilities.

Students today have the ability to pick and choose where they want to continue their studies.

They can now choose universities using a number of different criteria that best suit their own academic requirements.

In Australia around a quarter of all university students, about 300,000 according to government data, come from overseas.

A recent report in The Economist ‘Brains without borders’ said more than one million foreign students currently study in the United States.

Even some countries which have not traditionally hosted many foreign students are now trying to grab market share.

Japan has set a goal of 300,000 foreign students by 2020 which is a 60 percent increase in the number of foreign students the country now has enrolled at its universities. Malaysia also wants to double its foreign student intake to 250,000 by 2025.

Hong Kong and Singapore have both grown into popular hubs for international students, offering a mixture of well-established, young but rapidly developing institutions.

According to the latest global university rankings survey by British group Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), Singapore and Hong Kong together now have five of the world’s top 50 universities, and half of Asia’s top 10 universities.

“As wealthy, efficient and international cities, they also both score well in terms of overall living standards and desirability,” QS said in its survey last year.

Cross-border education is now becoming the norm rather than the exception, say academics.

“Universities can no longer operate in isolation,” said Abid Khan, deputy vice-chancellor and vice-president (Global Engagement) at Monash University in Australia.

“The world today faces complex challenges and no single place has all the answers,” he told China Daily Asia Weekly.

“But if you can bring people together you stand a chance of meeting some of those challenges … challenges such as climate change for example.”

Khan leads Global Engagement, a dedicated unit whose aim he said is to advance the university’s impact on the world through “international collaboration ... by forging and nurturing partnerships, and advising faculties, centers of excellence and industry on new ways to collaborate”.

Tan Tai Yong, professor of history at the Yale-NUS College, says international exposure is essential in teaching “adaptability, flexibility, and the ability to see things from another person’s or culture’s perspective”.

He said the college, a collaboration between Yale University and the National University of Singapore, has a common curriculum drawn from both Asian and Western “intellectual traditions”.

“In today’s economy, learning opportunities across national jurisdictional borders are highly sought-after.”

Dean of the faculty of engineering and information technologies at the University of Sydney, Archie Johnston, oversees what he said is “the educational development of world-class graduates with both the technical and interpersonal skills for national and global leadership roles”.

Recently appointed honorary professor to the Tianjin University, one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in China, to help develop its technology and innovation programs, Johnston is also an advisory professor of the Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China’s premier engineering school. The university has listed him as one of the top 200 scholars worldwide.

He said China is moving from an economy of the past to an economy of the future, a future driven by technology, which is in turn being driven by knowledge.

“The exposure to different people and cultures is an invaluable experience … something which we cannot teach here (locally).

“By bringing minds together it is quite possible to solve issues common to all people, whether you live in Australia or China.”

Khan from Monash University said: “There is a saying that money follows people … not the other way around.

“The narrative we are pushing at Monash is there are experiences, exposures and networks you can access that are different in other parts of the world. Go out there and take advantage of what’s on offer.”

Students and academics alike pay close attention to the various university rankings that are published on an annual basis, which compare the world’s universities in specific subject areas.

“These give students the ability to pick and choose where they would like to go,” Khan said.

“It is still competitive but students have choice. There was a time when universities told students what they should do and what they can gain. Now students say: ‘This is what we want to achieve and what we want to gain’.”

Khan said the last eight Rhodes scholars to come out of Monash University all studied overseas.

He estimates Monash University sends around 3,000 domestic students a year overseas to study.

“By studying overseas a student is career building before he or she actually starts a career.”

For many countries attracting foreign students has become a national priority.

In Australia education has now become the country’s largest services export, ahead of travel, and worth A$18 billion ($13.3 billion) in 2014-15.

Canada, a popular country for immigration, saw its international student population increase by 10 percent between 2013 and 2014.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom it is estimated that 14 percent of its student body comes from non-European Union countries.

A report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the World Bank on cross-border education said universities serve a vital function in that they train a “country’s workforce in all fields relevant to its development, including education”.

It went on to say that cross-border studies “help to expand quickly a tertiary education system and to increase the country’s stock of highly skilled human capital.

“It also gives a benchmark to academics and institutions on the quality and relevance of their services and can lead to organizational learning, thanks to partnerships, both at the institutional and system levels.

“Finally, it adds variety and choice to domestic systems, which may lead to healthy competition and quality enhancement.”

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