Perceptions of European Higher Education in Third Countries. Outcomes of a Study by the Academic Cooperation Association (ACA)

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1 Perceptins f Eurpean Higher Educatin in Third Cuntries Outcmes f a Study by the Academic Cperatin Assciatin (ACA) I. Intrductin Between Nvember 2004 and December 2005, fllwing a call fr tender issued by the Eurpean Cmmissin, the Academic Cperatin Assciatin (ACA) carried ut a majr study the purpse f which was t investigate the perceptin f Eurpean higher educatin in ther parts f the wrld, and n this basis t identify sme key messages fr a Eurpean brand in the field f higher educatin and t reflect n pssible instruments and mechanisms fr its delivery. T this end, the study sught t acquire an in-depth understanding f hw Eurpean higher educatin is viewed by students and ther stakehlders in third cuntries, its perceived strengths and weaknesses, and its standing relative t that f ther majr destinatins. This als entailed an assessment f the degree f infrmatin available t ptential internatinal students and the surces they typically use. The study was based n large-scale surveys in six target cuntries: China, India, Mexic, Brazil, Russia, and Thailand, as well as n interviews (with individuals and grups) and n desk research. Fr cmparative purpses, it als included internatinal students in the USA. Altgether, 11,471 students frm the target cuntries filled in the paper questinnaires distributed at schls and higher educatin institutins in the six target cuntries; 1,235 staff members filled in the paper questinnaires distributed at the same institutins; almst 9,000 students filled in the nline questinnaire (a slight majrity came frm the six target cuntries,

2 the rest was spread ver different cuntries arund the wrld); ver 400 internatinal students in the United States participated in the US survey. This was this by far the largest survey f wrldwide perceptins f Eurpean higher educatin ever cnducted. II. Key findings regarding the perceptin f Eurpean higher educatin as a destinatin fr internatinal students The study came t the fllwing main cnclusins regarding the way Eurpe is perceived wrldwide as a destinatin f internatinal study: 1. What is Eurpe s share f internatinal students wrldwide? Eurpe has a reasnable share f nn-eurpean freign students, but the United States are still the leading destinatin and the perfrmance f Australia in attracting freign students is remarkable, relative t its size; Despite cnsiderable grwth in recent years, Eurpe s relative disadvantage with regard t the USA and Australia as a destinatin fr freign students is predminantly with Asian students; Freign students in Eurpe are unevenly spread, with the UK, Germany and France hsting the lin s share. Other cuntries, particularly the new member states and Suthern Eurpe, are under-represented. 2. What is the wrldwide perceptin f Eurpe and its higher educatin? While there is a perceptin f Eurpe as an entity in general terms and as an ecnmic unin, when it cmes t cultural aspects and higher educatin, mst internatinal students rather see Eurpe as a range f very different cuntries. The perceived differences relate t the quality f educatin prvided in individual EU member states, and t sme extent t csts (tuitin fees and living csts) and the availability f student supprt). Knwledge f Eurpe is limited t a very few cuntries, namely the UK, Germany and France. The number f students wh were well infrmed abut ther cuntries was negligible. Especially knwledge f higher educatin pprtunities in the new member states was extremely limited. The interviews revealed little r n interest in cperating with r ging t the new member states r less prminent cuntries, thugh with regard t the Nrdic cuntries and the Netherlands this appears t be starting t change. Cmparing perceptins f Eurpe with thse f ther destinatins: - Students rank the US first fr issues linked t innvatin, cmpetitin and dynamism (bth in HE and sciety in general);

3 - Eurpe is seen as the destinatin with the mst traditinal universities, the mst interesting cultural heritage and traditins, and the mst attractive arts, music and cultural ffering; - Eurpe is seen as lacking innvatin, tlerance and jie de vivre, thus reinfrcing the picture f a traditinal Eurpe lacking dynamism; - Students wh have chsen a particular destinatin, generally see this destinatin as the best chice, wherever it may be; - Eurpe has a better standing in Russia and Latin America, while the US and Australia are favured by students in the Asian target cuntries (which represent a cnsiderably bigger share f the ttal internatinal student ppulatin wrld-wide; - Asian students rank the US abve Eurpe in mst academic and labur-market related issues (quality f labratries, libraries and ther facilities; quality f educatin; mst prestigius universities; reputatin f degrees; chances f getting a jb and staying n after graduatin; wrk pprtunities during studies); - Specific US universities seem t have higher visibility than thse f ther cuntries (fr students aiming t study in the US, the chice f university came befre the chice f cuntry in mre instances than amng freign students in Eurpe); - Eurpe and Australia are perceived as safe destinatins, but nt the US; - Eurpe and Australia are regarded as mre accessible than the US at least as far as visas are cncerned. - Free tuitin is regarded as an asset, and in verall terms Eurpe is perceived as mre affrdable than the US, thugh less affrdable than Australia. Especially Asian students thught that it was easier t btain a schlarship in the United States. - Cultural and linguistic diversity is mainly seen as attractive, especially in Latin America. Hwever, a significant grup f Asians see diversity f languages as a barrier t cmmunicatin and diversity f cultures as cnfusing; - Eurpe s single majr disadvantage in the eyes f Asian students is that English is nt the universal mther tngue. Interviews als shwed that infrmatin abut English-taught prgrammes in nn-english speaking cuntries was nt widespread; - Eurpe is generally seen as being elegant, clean, rganised and mdern; - The emergent refrm measures in Eurpe (Bachelr-Master system, credit system t facilitate recgnitin, innvative study mdels such as jint Masters prgrammes in tw different Eurpean cuntries) are seen psitively, but are nt (yet?) a key factr in determining the attractiveness f Eurpean higher educatin; - Mre imprtant wuld be a single, well-publicised and effectively functining web prtal, Eurpe-wide rankings, and enhanced financial supprt fr nn-eurpean students.

4 3. Which factrs give rise t study abrad, and what determines students chice f destinatin? The mst imprtant reasns t g abrad are career-riented, but aspects related t persnal and prfessinal grwth als play a significant rle. Amng respndents t the survey, the mst frequent mtivatins t pursue an internatinal educatin were: t experience new ways f thinking and acting in the field f study t imprve chances fr an internatinal career r a career in the hme cuntry t imprve freign language skills t get the pprtunity fr persnal develpment. Sci-cultural mtivatins and cultural and lifestyle-related criteria were f minr imprtance fr the biggest student chrts. The mst imprtant criteria in the decisin fr a destinatin cuntry and university are prestige, quality f educatin and the reputatin f degrees. Other imprtant criteria are the suitability f prgrammes n ffer, affrdability f living and tuitin, mdernity f teaching methds, accessibility (acceptance f hme qualificatin, student supprt, transparent admissin structures) and safety. Overall, students surveyed were predminantly lking fr a specific and high-quality ffer in their area f specialisatin, at an up-t-date and well-managed institutin f high standing which they can affrd. 4. What type f studies d mst students want t pursue? Survey respndents shwed a preference fr studying a Masters degree abrad. In China and India, fr example, the undergraduate ffer at prestigius institutins was cnsidered f equivalent quality t what students culd find abrad, r even better, while the ffer at Master and Dctral level was still seen as limited. Overall, it was als cnsidered a better ptin t d the first degree at hme in rder t ensure recgnitin by emplyers and academia, and t be able t build up a netwrk f prfessinal cntacts at hme. The target cuntries can clearly be divided int tw grups: while studying fr a Masters degree was mst attractive fr Asians and Mexicans, shrt-term mbility was the mst ppular ptin fr students frm Brazil and Russia. 5. What can hamper the student plans t study in anther cuntry?

5 Obstacles encuntered by internatinal students are ften related t matters utside higher educatin as such and cncern finances, immigratin plicy and language preparatin. A high number f students ging t the US had difficulties with btaining a visa, while limited language prficiency and a lack f wrk pprtunities during and after studies were amng the significant bstacles mentined in relatin t study in Eurpe. These bstacles can result in an alternative chice f destinatin. Abut a quarter f the students wh respnded t the survey finally preferred a cuntry that had nt been their riginal first chice. Fr abut half f the students wh were planning t study in ne f the Nrdic cuntries r in the Netherlands, their destinatin was nly their secnd r third chice. 6. What surces f infrmatin are used when deciding n study abrad, and hw well des infrmatin n higher educatin in Eurpe functin? The Internet and websites f individual universities in particular were quted as the mst widely used surce f infrmatin, fllwed by the ffices/websites f varius natinal internatinalisatin agencies. Althugh web-based channels are clearly mst imprtant, the significance f the netwrk f ffices f varius internatinalisatin agencies, f persnal cntact and f cmmercial agents shuld nt be underestimated. Hwever, wrkshp participants, interviewees and survey respndents agreed upn ne majr message: infrmatin n Eurpe and its higher educatin is missing r hard t access. This was especially true amng students frm Asian cuntries. In particular, respndents t the survey had difficulties in finding infrmatin n schlarship pprtunities, living csts and tuitin fees. They als underlined a lack f university rankings and f infrmatin n suitable prgrammes. There was felt t be a general lack f a clear sender f infrmatin n study in Eurpe as a whle. III. Recmmendatins fr the prmtin f Eurpean higher educatin Against the backgrund f the analysis f wrldwide perceptins f Eurpe as a study destinatin, the mandate f the study was als t make recmmendatins t the Eurpean Cmmissin n the prmtin f Eurpean higher educatin as a distinct brand : its cre elements shuld be defined and suggestins made n hw t cmmunicate the brand in the framewrk f a wrldwide campaign. The study resulted in the fllwing cnclusins and recmmendatins: 1. There is a clear ptential fr a Eurpean brand. The challenge is t create a perceptin f Eurpe as a whle. A Eurpean brand can nly cver elements which are cmmn t all Eurpean cuntries. The three main selling pints fr Eurpean educatin shuld be its quality educatin, its traditin and

6 the ffer f internatinally cmpatible degrees. Other attributes safety, accessibility, etc. - shuld be used in the cntext f specific campaigns. Using ne and the same brand wrldwide is necessary in rder t create a clear Eurpean identity. Under this cmmn Eurpean umbrella brand, tailr-made campaigns may be run fr different target cuntries, regins and target grups. 2. A clearly identifiable Eurpean sender is essential in rder reinfrce Eurpe s identity n the glbal educatin market and crdinate campaigns carried ut under the Eurpean umbrella. All cuntry reprts cnducted in the framewrk f the study underlined the lack f a cherent infrmatin plicy regarding study pprtunities in Eurpe, and emphasised the imprtance f having a strng infrmatin campaign with a clear sender and message. Key features f such a strategy wuld need t be: A widely prmted and carefully administered Internet prtal; A Eurpean ffice with crdinating functins t lk after the brand and run the Internet prtal; Cperatin with member states in the implementatin f marketing campaigns. 3. T create and prmte a Eurpean brand is necessary but nt enugh. T enhance its internatinal attractiveness, imprvements must als be made with regard t Eurpean higher educatin itself The study cncluded that althugh vital, an effective marketing campaign alne wuld nt be sufficient t enhance the attractiveness f Eurpean higher educatin. Fur ther key factrs emerged as being necessary cmpnents f an verall strategy: Eurpean higher educatin itself must be f high quality if it is t be successfully prmted. In the cntext f internatinal study, the main factrs were identified as prviding higher educatin institutins with the necessary autnmy t: select their internatinal students; prvide institutinal schlarships fr highly qualified internatinal applicants; enable internatinal students t access alternative surces f funding; recruit high quality teaching and research staff. It is vital t implement flexible immigratin and visa plicies allwing internatinal students t stay n and wrk after graduatin and t prvide them with wrk pprtunities. Especially in the less ppular destinatin cuntries, the develpment f English-taught prgrammes are the nly way t attract significant numbers f nn-eurpean students;

7 The lng-term success f a Eurpean marketing strategy will nt nly depend n the verall quality f Eurpean higher educatin, but als n its capacity t diversify. While the verall aim shuld be t achieve slid quality acrss the bard, Eurpean cuntries and higher educatin institutins shuld attempt t find their niche and invest in develping their specific strengths

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