Universities’ fiscal dependence on international students

Protest against levying tuition on non-European students in front of the Norwegian parliament (Storting). Photo credit: ISU-Norway. Source: NRK.
Protest against levying tuition on non-European students in front of the Norwegian parliament (Storting). Photo credit: ISU-Norway. Source: NRK.

Stephen Connelly from the Melbourne-based educational consultancy firm GlobalEd Services notes that 18.7% of university students in Australia in 2014 were international, as compared to about 16% in Canada and 4% in the US. However, the US enrolls far larger numbers of international students. The proportion is smaller because the domestic US population and the US higher education sector are far larger than Australia’s or Canada’s.

Connelly notes further that international students were the source of 16.3% of Australian university revenue in 2013. The numbers would look very different for US colleges and universities, given that there is a large non-profit private sector and that even many state universities are dependent on donations and endowments. While New York University and the University of Southern California (both private) enroll the largest numbers of international students, state universities like the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign and Purdue University are not far behind.

While enrolling more international students and having tuition and fees from international students become a larger proportion of university revenue is not necessarily a bad thing, politicians have used it as an oblique way of reducing state support for higher education. For example, see how the Norwegian government tried to start charging tuition to international students to make up for budget cuts.

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International students and researchers are people, too

Protest against levying tuition on non-European students in front of the Norwegian parliament (Storting). Photo credit: ISU-Norway. Source: NRK.
Protest against levying tuition on non-European students in front of the Norwegian parliament (Storting). Photo credit: ISU-Norway. Source: NRK.

This year’s Norwegian national budget includes an 80.5 million kroner (12.3 million US dollar) cut to higher education funding. Students and unversity officials are highly dissatisfied with the cuts, and especially with the proposal that institutions make up the deficit by levying tuition on students from outside of the European Economic Area. Many believe that it would be a step back for the university (and the country’s) efforts to internationalize its universities. The rector of the University of Oslo, Ole Petter Ottersen, has written that tuition for non-EEA students would lead to the “Europeanization” of campus and a decline in the pool of skills available for Norwegian industries. He points to the example of Sweden, which introduced tuition fees for non-EEA students in 2011 and has consequently seen a decline in international student numbers. If Norway were to implement this tuition scheme, then it would lose out in the global competition for international students.

This competition is driven by the idea that foreign students bring economic benefits. For example, students bring money into the country to spend on tuition and living expenses. Australia, one of the countries that has best capitalized on international education, counts the economic activity generated by international education as one of its biggest services exports (PDF). Students generate economic output when they do part-time work or internships. They often decide to stay on to work full-time after graduation, or even start new businesses, generating even more economic benefits. More indirectly, they may go back to their home countries with concrete social and professional ties to people in the host country, and these ties might create new transnational economic and political opportunities.

The discourse about skilled labor migration and higher education growth often treats international students (and the international workers they could become) as if they could be reduced to their economic worth alone. But students and workers are people, too. What are the social consequences of introducing foreign people into domestic institutions and the domestic social world? How might this process change the people who are coming in, and how might it change the society that is receiving them? Continue reading “International students and researchers are people, too”

Researcher mobility starts with a button on the form

The Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Oslo, my new departmental home for the next few months.
The Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Oslo, my new departmental home for the next few months.

Greetings from Norway! I will be spending the fall semester at the University of Oslo as a guest researcher in the Department of Sociology and Human Geography. My stay here is supported by a generous Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide grant from the US National Science Foundation and the Research Council of Norway. I’m very excited to join Oslo’s vibrant community of migration scholars as I develop my dissertation proposal.

My plan is to study how international students become skilled labor migrants in the countries where they were trained. As a domestic student in the US, I don’t have any first-hand experience with the complex immigration bureaucracy there and how it shapes international students’ lives. In preparing to come to Norway for the semester, though, I got a small taste of migration management for myself. Continue reading “Researcher mobility starts with a button on the form”