Women hold up half the sky, deserve half the research

November 3, 2015 at 10:31 AM | Posted in Education and Training, Funding, Government, Social Media, Technology, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Source: University World News

When we talk about women in academia, we tend to concentrate on fixing the numbers and fixing the organisations. That means more women getting into research careers, staying in and reaching leadership positions and it means making sure that universities and other research organisations make structural changes in the way they recruit, support, retain and promote.

There is a third task, less well known yet equally important, which is fixing the knowledge. Gendered research and innovation, or GRI, is about making sure that gender and sex analysis are properly integrated into the research process itself. The League of European Research Universities, or LERU, has recently published an advice paper on this topic.

Why is this important? GRI is about making sure that research results are equally valid for people of all genders and sexes, of high quality and innovative. GRI therefore has an important role to play in improving global citizens’ lives and in ensuring that research and innovation are in tune with universities’ responsibility to society.

GRI matters because it helps research to answer the global societal challenges we are facing, from adaptation to climate change, to solutions for ageing populations, for energy challenges, and more.

Different experiences of disease

Taking a GRI perspective means making sure that research is done on both the male and female variant when appropriate. Doing the research right – for all sexes and genders – has the capacity to improve or save both lives and money.

In health research, for example, many diseases have been identified that affect women more heavily than men, such as cancer and osteoporosis.

It is increasingly recognised that women and men may manifest and experience diseases differently, respond differently to treatment, metabolise drugs differently and respond differently to devices. Some male/female differences can occur as early as during pregnancy and birth. Female infants, for instance, are more likely than males to contract HIV at birth, while male infants are more likely to be infected through breastfeeding.

The differences between the sexes can be found at a very fundamental level, namely even in cells, cell lines and cell regulatory practices.

Remarkably little effort, however, has been spent on rigorously investigating and reporting the underlying sex and gender differences (the first is a biological, the second a sociological concept). For too long, medical research has not systematicallyfocused on differences in disease prevalence, progression, clinical outcomes and responses to treatment between women and men.

Too often it has been, and still may be, assumed that men can be used as the norm group for the entire population. As a result, women (and people who do not fit into the binary male-female scheme) continue to be underrepresented in clinical trials and are frequently subject to medical practices based on data from a predominantly male population.

Women are not just underrepresented in clinical trials. In laboratory studies and preclinical human research, male animals are much more frequently used than females. This is shown, for instance, in pain research: 79% of animal studies published in the journal Pain between 2001 and 2011 included males only, with only 8% of studies on females only and a mere 4% explicitly designed to test for sex differences (the rest did not specify).

But it is not only about women: diseases such as eating disorders in young men are under-diagnosed and under-treated.

Moreover, GRI is not limited to biomedical research. Researchers in all disciplines should ask themselves whether there are potentially sex and gender differences to be addressed in their research.

The LERU paper gives many examples: from urban transport to crash test dummies, machine translation, employment, sustainable development, climate change, criminology, etc. Many more examples can be found on the Gendered Innovationswebsite, an initiative by Stanford University Professor Londa Schiebinger.

The research cycle

Not all research topics will have a GRI dimension. When there are no interactions with GRI, it is equally important to mention the question was posed, but no GRI dimension or effect was found.

Given the link made above to solving societal challenges, it is clear that researchers from all kinds of disciplinary backgrounds should be aware of the need for a potential GRI dimension to their research, whether they are engineers, natural scientists or economists.

Scholars from the humanities and social sciences in particular can make important contributions in finding solutions to understanding societal challenges such as climate change, hunger, security, immigration and so on.

Many humanities and social science disciplines have a tradition of incorporating sex and gender analysis into research and have the methodological expertise for doing so. Humanities and social science insights may be most valuable in identifying the right research questions to ask, although a multidisciplinary approach is important at all stages of the research process.

The latter is another point to note. Engaging in GRI includes addressing potential sex and gender differences in each stage of the research cycle: when governments, funders, universities and others make decisions about priorities for research spending, when researchers decide on the research focus, methodology and data collection and when they analyse and report on data, when researchers, journals and others disseminate research results, and when research results are used by companies, governments or the public at large.

What can be done? The LERU paper makes 20 recommendations for stakeholders to act upon, emphasising the importance of support, promotion and resources for GRI.

University leadership needs to put GRI on the agenda within the university and with others outside the university. Researchers need to be informed so they can assess whether or not GRI is important in their research and act accordingly. Governments should include a GRI dimension in research policies and programmes.

Research funders can create financial incentives or support for researchers. The European Union funding programme Horizon 2020 can serve as a forward-looking model. Research journals should set standards for including GRI information, with clear guidelines for authors.

LERU universities have started to address this issue, but there is much work to be done. We would like to see concerted and systematic efforts to raise awareness of and provide training on GRI to members of all research stakeholder communities.

In addition, there is a need for links to and integration with other gender equality initiatives at all levels: through inclusion of GRI in government policies and strategies, funders’ programmes, universities’ gender equality strategies or action plans, research activities and researchers’ projects.

LERU has recently put out a statement calling attention to the issue of gender equality, which is a priority of the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the EU. We regret that GRI is missing in this discussion and we call on the ministers to include GRI in the December 2015 council conclusions as part of an overall ambitious set of plans for gender equality.

Katrien Maes is chief policy officer of the League of European Research Universities, or LERU. The first half of the headline comes from Mao Zedong, the second half from Simone Buitendijk (co-author of the LERU paper).


Cuba at the crossroads of greater international engagement

October 22, 2015 at 12:47 PM | Posted in Education and Training, Funding, Government, Social Media | Leave a comment

Source ICEF Monitor

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Improving relations with the global community, and notably with the US, have set the stage for stronger international ties between Cuba and other countries in the region and beyond
  • Cuba has long been an important study destination in the region, and is especially noted for its medical schools
  • Strengthening inbound and outbound tourism and an improving technical infrastructure will likely further improve the movement of people, information, and ideas on and off the island

Cuba has reached a pivotal point in its history. Signs of rapprochement with the United States and new economic opportunities have drawn the interest of international investors. Such developments could prompt the nation’s leaders to seek greater engagement with the global economy, and this would in turn have far-reaching effects on the education sector.

According to UNESCO figures, Cuba hosts 12 times the number of students it sends abroad, with its 1,800 outbound students comparing to nearly 23,000 students hosted in 2012. So far, there are no indications outbound student numbers will rise sharply in the immediate future.Outbound tourism, however, skyrocketed in 2013, particularly in the form of short trips to Mexico, the US, and Spain.

However, for those who do go abroad for longer periods the process will be somewhat more convenient due to changes in the island’s permiso de salida system. Previously, Cubans had to go through a long, expensive process to obtain permission to travel, but as of January 2013 most have needed only a Cuban passport and a visa from the destination country.

A broad expansion in the tourism sector has helped Cuba form new links around the planet. For example, Brazil and Singapore are backing a US$1 billion project in the port of Mariel, which when completed will feature a free trade zone. Hundreds of international companies have applied for permits to operate there to date. Cuba has even extended invitations to selected American companies, which in turn are pressuring Washington for more freedom to operate on the island. In the meantime, Mexican and Belgian companies have already received the green light to set up shop in Mariel.

And in June, Cuba regained a link with Spain when Iberia airlines reopened a direct air route to Cuba following a hiatus of almost two years. It had stopped flights to the island, and to several other South American countries, due to profitability issues. But Iberia spokespeople had always suggested service would resume to Cuba when conditions allowed, and this past summer they cited improved relations between the US and Cuba as allowing for potential revenue generation on the route. Since Spain is the top choice for Cubans studying abroad, they now have another transport option.

Iberia’s decision offers an indication how strongly Cuba’s fortunes are affected by its relationship with its northern neighbour. But while there has been improvement, the US has shown no signs yet of lifting its crippling 53-year economic embargo.

In the interim, Cuba has been busy forging new economic ties with China, France, India, and other nations in areas ranging from pharmaceuticals to oil exploration. Today it has direct air connections with more than 50 foreign cities, and also has three cruise ship terminals and 39 international marinas.

These are all good developments for Cuba, but outbound student mobility is primarily hampered not by poor travel links, but by poor income levels. A Bendixen & Amandi poll conducted in March 2015 for Univision Noticias/Fusion in collaboration with The Washington Post collected some of the most detailed information available for Cuba in decades.

Among the findings were that 34% of Cubans receive remittances sent from abroad. This is not unusual in the region – El Salvador’s remittances are 16% of the country’s total GDP – yet it illustrates the economic drag on Cuban mobility.

Another mobility-related finding of the same survey is that, asked what they would like to accomplish within the next five years, 64% of Cubans selected the choice “travel abroad,” while seven other aspirations were ranked lower, with “go to college” at the bottom of the list at a mere 10%.

Cuba as a study destination

But while outbound mobility is unlikely to change in the near term, inbound mobility from other countries may soon receive a strong boost due to the impact of recent developments upon communications, banking, and travel.

The United States, for example, has famously eased restrictions related to various types of business dealings, which means companies can now export telephones, computers, and Internet technology and can also ship supplies to private Cuban enterprises. Rules for money transfers to the island have also been eased.

As noted in previous reports on Cuba, the island has long had a strong receiving market, one admired for the achievements of its education system despite the US embargo. Last year the World Bank issued a report that was highly critical of every education system in Latin America “except possibly Cuba’s, [which] is very close to the high standards, high academic talent, high or at least adequate compensation, and high professional autonomy that characterise the world’s most effective education systems.”

Though the World Bank and other bodies consider Cuba’s overall system similar to advanced systems elsewhere, inbound mobility is fuelled predominantly by students from poor and developing nations, with most coming from Bolivia, China, Ecuador, Peru, and Pakistan. Among OECD nations, UNESCO figures rank only Mexico among the top ten senders to the island. Nations such as Germany, France, and Sweden are estimated to send no more than a handful of students each year.

This likely derives from the fact that Cuba’s university sector, while better than many, doesn’t rate as highly as the educational system as a whole. Universidad de La Habana and several other institutions are internationally respected, but in recent decades many Cuban university professors have seen the value of their pay decline, driving some into other endeavours, such as private tutoring. This exodus of faculty has of course affected teaching quality. The university dropout rate has risen as well – to more than 30% – as students also seek income outside the academic path.

Some of Cuba’s tertiary reforms have brought about tougher admissions standards and a greater focus on agricultural and technical sciences. Since the introduction of those changes, the government has expanded its goals to include:

  • The establishment of a new two- to three-year educational level called the Educación Superior no Universitaria, or Non-University Higher Education, the goal being to prepare participants for specific occupations in the labour market and decrease underemployment.
  • Modified admission procedures for night courses and distance education, with increased enrolment facilitated by removing entrance exams – which are currently the same as for normal university degree courses.
  • A shortening of most undergraduate programmes to no more than four years.
  • The establishment of a legal framework for the continuous training of professionals, with the goal of maintaining a fully prepared workforce and providing opportunities for personal development.
  • A new requirement to master the English language before graduating with a tertiary degree, with universities offering both structured classes, as well as providing students with courses and access to computer platforms to allow them to learn independently.

Rodolfo Alarcón Ortiz, Cuba’s Higher Education Minister, described these new measures at a September 2015 press conference as contributions “to improving the quality, equity, and relevance of higher education.” About the new English language requirement, he said, “We have to solve the problem that Cuban professionals are not able to express themselves in the universal language of our time.”

This statement strongly illustrates the shift of thinking taking place within the Cuban government. The announced changes are slated for introduction beginning with the 2016/17 academic year.

Despite suffering from some of the same challenges as regular universities, Cuba’s medical schools remain popular and reputable, and one of the goals of the government is to make the island a hub for medical education. The international community has shown interest, both in schooling opportunities and the fruits of Cuban medical research. Earlier this year the French company Abivax licensed a hepatitis B treatment developed entirely by Cuban scientists. Similar opportunities for revenue-generating partnerships may exist, and could help curb steady defections from a medical sector that has lost more than 1,200 professionals since 2006.

While US companies are disadvantaged in forming links with Cuba, universities enjoy more latitude to bypass the embargo, and American schools have responded to political developments by expanding their presence on the island. Foremost among them is a group of Ivy League schools – comprising Johns Hopkins University, Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Northwestern University, and University of Pennsylvania – that have launched the largest US study abroad programme in Cuba to date. Known as CASA-Havana, it allows American and Cuban scholars to conduct side-by-side research into political, social, economic, and cultural issues affecting Latin America and the Caribbean.

Another area of Cuban education that remains in good health is its Spanish language sector. Greater ease of travel will make enrolment for foreigners in short courses more attractive. For courses of up to four weeks, language schools and universities accept applicants who possess a standard tourist card, known on the island as a visa del tarjeta del turista. These are cheap to purchase, don’t need to be arranged in advance, are easily obtainable in all Cuban airports, and can be extended for 30 days from the date of expiration by visiting an immigration office and paying an additional fee.

Giving tech a boost

Since President Obama’s easing of restrictions, direct telephone connection between the US and Cuba has been established for the first time in 15 years, US credit and banking companies have positioned themselves to accept charges from the island, and the Cuban government has given approval for the opening of the island’s first wireless hub. These and other steps – some important, others symbolic – boost Cuba’s already high potential as a study abroad destination.

Among all the recent changes in Cuba, it is those to the digital tech sector that have the most potential to affect the island’s education.

The government has been vocal about upgrading its telecommunications infrastructure, particularly since an undersea cable between the island and Venezuela provided markedly better Internet service beginning in January 2013. That cable was followed by another to Jamaica. However Cuba continues to suffer from poor connectivity and limited connection speeds.

That is likely to soon change. Two more oceanic connections will arrive within the next year, and the government will modernise the country’s tech infrastructure further by installing a fiber-optic backbone across the island. The official plan is to cut Internet service prices, set up more than 100 cyber cafes, and have 50% of private homes online by 2020. Installing and servicing this new infrastructure will create more jobs in a high-tech industry that currently employs only about 5,000 workers. The new system may well also facilitate communication between prospective students and international educators, and potentially give Cubans access to MOOCs and other forms of off-island distance education.

Despite the lack of available jobs, some Cuban universities have been preparing students for the coming technological influx for years. For example:

  • Universidad de las Ciencias Informáticas (UCI) was founded in 2002 and has bestowed 20,000 computer science degrees;
  • After UCI’s arrival, other Cuban universities added technology to their curricula, and each year 5,500 IT engineers graduate, 33% with masters or doctoral degrees;
  • At the secondary level, 40,000 teens graduate every year with coding skills in languages and systems such as Java, Android, Windows, and Linux-Unix.

The future of Cuban education

In Cuba, necessity has always brought about inventiveness. This inventiveness, plus a strong educational tradition, growing fluency with – and access to – technology, and more focus on English proficiency make Cuban youth good candidates for international study. But for the time being, financial obstacles remain. Scholarships can make up some of the monetary shortfall, but there is no indication yet what Cuban government policy would be toward overseas study for larger numbers of its citizens.

As a host, Cuba already welcomes tens of thousands of international students each year and has become a popular destination for Latin Americans, Caribbean islanders, and Africans. The government plans to ride the crest of recent political changes to expand Cuba’s role in this area. But while rapidly growing tertiary links have already brought in select groups of students from more universities than in the past, the island may not truly become a hub until its technology, communication, and university teaching quality better match those of its neighbours in the region.


Challenges in Vietnamese higher education contributing to demand for study abroad

September 10, 2015 at 2:18 PM | Posted in Education and Training, Funding, Government, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Source ICEF Monitor

A youthful population and a growing economy continue to fuel Vietnam’s status as one of the most important emerging education markets in Asia. But higher education capacity is another key factor driving demand for study abroad in the country, one that led as many as 125,000 Vietnamese students to pursue studies overseas in 2013.

Vietnam’s higher education system has grown quickly over the last 15 years. Between 2001 and 2011, an average of eight new universities and 12 colleges were established each year, leading to a total of 163 universities and 223 colleges by 2010/11. Much of the growth in the system since the year 2000 has been in the form of private-sector institutions, particularly smaller colleges with more narrowly focused curricula.

Tertiary enrolment has also grown significantly over the same period. Dr Martin Hayden, the Dean of the School of Education at Southern Cross University, has written extensively on the Vietnamese system and notes: “The enrolment rate increased from 162 students per 10,000 persons in 2001 to 251 students per 10,000 persons in 2011. This growth trajectory will continue – by 2020, the enrolment rate is projected to be more than 400 students per 10,000 persons.”

Total tertiary enrolment more than tripled over this period from 732,187 students in 2000 to 2.25 million in 2013 – the gross enrolment ratio, meanwhile, increased from 9.33% to 24.58% during those same years.

The forecast that Dr Hayden references above suggests that total enrolment could exceed four million students by 2020.

The question of quality

This rapid expansion of capacity has been accompanied by persistent concerns as to the quality of higher education in the country, and it is widely acknowledged within Vietnam and among international observers that the system requires significant improvements in both the standards of its programmes and outcomes for graduates.

A World Bank project briefing from 2009 highlights some important challenges with respect to employability of graduates and quality controls in the rapidly expanding Vietnamese system, noting that, “Building a higher education system in Vietnam that is innovative, responsive to the demands of the market and of high quality is essential to the economic growth and development of Vietnam.”

Vietnamese higher education is now struggling with a range of structural and systemic challenges. On the ground, with some familiar challenges for any rapidly expanding system, the country is particularly grappling with dramatic growth in class size and, on a related note, a chronic shortage of qualified faculty.

As World Education News and Reviews (WENR) reported in 2010, “The rapid growth in student numbers has not been matched by a similar expansion of the faculty body. In the 22-year period between 1987 and 2009, the number of students has increased 13 times, the number of institutions of higher education by a factor of 3.3 and the number of lecturers just threefold. Student to teacher ratios have increased from 6.6:1 in 1987 to 28:1 in 2009…

Of equal concern to lecturer shortages is lecturer quality. According to official government statistics, the total number of lecturers at both colleges and universities has grown from 20,112 in 1997 to 61,190 in 2009, while the number with doctoral degrees has grown from just 2,041 to 6,217 over the same period. Those with masters degrees have increased from 3,802 in 1997 to 24,831 in 2009, meaning that more than 50% of tertiary-level instructors do not have graduate qualifications.”

Building a world-class university

The challenge facing Vietnam’s educators and policymakers is amplified by the underlying complexity of the system itself. “Vietnam’s higher education system is extraordinarily complex,” says Dr Hayden. “There are national universities, regional universities, research institutes, academies, comprehensive universities, specialised universities, technical and vocational colleges, teacher training colleges, community colleges and professional-secondary schools.”

“The differences between these types of institutions are not always evident, and the system as a whole does not conform consistently to any globally recognised qualifications structure.”

In terms of formal structure, a government decree from August 2000 provides for three types of higher education institutions:

  • “Đại học,” or universities, are multidisciplinary institutions with some research capacity and with programmes in several fields of study.
  • “Trường Đại học,” or senior colleges, are more narrowly focused in their programme offerings, to the point where they may provide programmes in only a single subject area.
  • “Học viện,” or institutes, are often also narrowly focused by programme area but may also have some specialised research capacity.

Given the rapid growth of higher education since 2000, and the acknowledged challenges vis-à-vis academic quality, the government has signaled its intention to focus on reining in some of this complexity: consolidating the current system, strengthening existing institutions, and improving system administration and quality controls.

In recent years, the Ministry of Education and Training has moved to cap class sizes and has expanded scholarship support for advanced studies abroad at the master’s and PhD level. It has also supported the establishment of formal partnerships between Vietnamese institutions and universities abroad to strengthen curricula in 23 targeted science and technology subject areas.

The government has also moved to cool the further expansion of the system by placing a halt on proposals to establish new universities and colleges as of 20 March 2014. It also signalled at the time its intention to strengthen administrative and regulatory structures for higher education.

Most recently, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has announced a freeze on new international collaborations to open or expand universities until 2020. Vietnam has opened three such international agreements in recent years under the auspices of the New Model University Project (NMUP).

Initiated in the late-2000s with funding support from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, the NMUP anticipated the formation of four new universities, each supported by a partner country and following an established higher education model from that country with some adaptation for delivery in Vietnam.

To date, three such international partnerships have been established, leading to creation of three new public universities:

  • The Vietnamese German University (VGU), which operates in partnership with a German state-level government and a consortium of 30 German universities.
  • The University of Science and Technology of Hanoi (USTH), which operates in partnership with the French government and a consortium of French institutions.
  • Most recently, the Vietnam-Japan University was established via a 2014 agreement between the Vietnamese and Japanese governments.

Under the NMUP, the government has set an ambitious goal to have each of the three new institutions ranked among the world’s top 200 universities by 2020. The scale of this challenge is underscored by the fact that at present only one Vietnamese institution, Vietnam National University (#191), ranks in the top 200 in the 2015 QS University Rankings for Asia, and none in the QS University World Rankings for 2014.

In last month’s announcement, Prime Minister Nguyen indicated a shift in government policy away from the establishment of any additional universities under NMUP (at least for the next several years) and toward an increased emphasis on strengthening the quality and ranking of two national universities in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City along with the three existing NMUP institutions. The Prime Minister’s statement also reinforced the government’s commitment to seeing each of these universities within the top tier of global rankings.

These are important developments for the future of Vietnamese education, and, by extension, for Vietnam itself. As is the case in other key education markets, the reforms, investments, and improvements anticipated by current government policy will also play an important role in shaping the Vietnamese demand for study abroad now and in the future.

Four trends that are shaping the future of global student mobility

September 5, 2015 at 2:50 PM | Posted in Education and Training, Funding, Government, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Source ICEF Monitor

Every now and then, we find it helpful to step back from the steady tide of market reports and information and think about some of the larger trends that are influencing international student mobility. Here are four that are likely to have a profound impact on global education markets for the next decade and more.

1. Growth will continue, but at what rate?

The estimates have it that there are about five million students studying outside of their home countries today. This represents an increase of nearly 67% from the three million students that did so in 2005, with average annual growth of 7% per year between 2000 and 2012.

The OECD projects that the world’s population of international students will reach eight million by 2025. This represents a slightly cooler, but still very impressive, projected growth rate of 60% in overall global mobility over the next decade.

The big question is what happens after that.

It is fair to say that domestic higher education capacity has been an important driver of growth in recent decades. Simply put: in countries that lack higher education capacity – whether in terms of available seats or reliable quality of education – students look for opportunities to study abroad. But that domestic capacity question is shifting in many key markets, and will continue to do so.

“Up to 2002, more students were enrolled in higher education in North America and Western Europe than in any other world region. But since 2003, there have been more students pursuing higher education in East Asia and the Pacific,” wrote RMIT University analyst Angel Calderon in a 2012 article for University World News. “The East Asia and the Pacific region is expected to exceed enrolments of 100 million students between 2020 and 2021 and to exceed enrolments of 200 million between 2033 and 2034.”

More recently, Mr Calderon noted in a pre-conference briefing for EAIE 2015 in Glasgow, “Higher education participation rates will continue to rise…meaning that demand for previously unmet domestic higher education will be met for countries such as China, India, Brazil and Indonesia.” More to the point, he notes that major sending markets, such as China and India, still have an unmet demand for tertiary education that amounts to about 30 million young people each. But “once that capacity is met, somewhere around 2025, international student mobility may reach a game-changing moment.”

While there are many factors that act on global demand for study abroad, the implications of this demand-supply shift are potentially profound.

The changing undergraduate-graduate composition of Chinese enrolment in the US can be seen as an early indicator of how such shifts can directly influence patterns of student mobility. Needless to say, the prospect of slower growth over the long term, particularly from today’s key source markets, carries with it some important strategic implications for international educators going forward.

2. Leading destinations losing share

The US remains the world’s leading study destination, and, together with the UK, Germany, France, and Australia, hosts about half of the world’s mobile tertiary students. Many of these leading destinations, however, are losing market share in recent years.

The US share of internationally mobile students dropped from 23% in 2000 to 16% in 2012, even as the absolute number of foreign students in America continues to climb. The UK, where enrolment has flattened in recent years in the face of more restrictive visa policies, has lost ground as well.

This shift is largely a function of increasing competition among destinations. Both Canada andAustralia have gained a greater share of international students over the last decade. But other countries have also gained ground. The OECD reports that outside of these leading destinations, “significant numbers of foreign students were enrolled in the Russian Federation (4% market share in 2012), Japan (3%), Austria (2%), Italy (2%), New Zealand (2%), and Spain (2%).”

Add to this the growing impact of emerging regional hubs for education – more on which below – and it is fair to say that the stage is set for a new level of competition among leading study destinations over the next decade and more.

3. Middle class driving growth

The growth of the middle class in emerging economies around the world is another key factor in overall demand levels for study abroad. As Dr Simon Marginson wrote earlier this year, “The number of middle class people in Asia is expected to rise from 600 million in 2010 to more than three billion in 2030 [and] middle class families want tertiary education for their children.”

A recent World Education News and Reviews (WENR) analysis expands on this point by highlighting that growth in outbound mobility since 2000 has been heavily influenced by theexpansion of the middle class: “Upper-middle-income economies…are the ones driving growth in outbound student mobility. The total number of outbound international students from upper-middle-income economies jumped 161% between 2000 and 2012, as compared to only 29% from high-income OECD countries.”

Outbound mobility growth by World Bank national income classification. Source: World Education News and Reviews

Indeed, some of the most significant emerging markets for international education today, including India, Nigeria, and Indonesia, are characterised by large and growing middle-class populations.

4. Regional student mobility

The Education at a Glance 2014 report makes the point that: “Global student mobility follows inter-and intra-regional migration patterns to a great extent. The growth in the internationalisation of tertiary enrolment in OECD countries, as well as the high proportion of intra-regional student mobility show the growing importance of regional mobility over global mobility.”

We have been tracking the increasing role of intra-regional mobility in recent years. For example, the pattern is clearly visible in UNESCO statistics that indicate the percentage of Latin American students remaining within the region increased from 11% in 1999 to 23% in 2007. Similarly, the percentage of mobile East Asian students studying within the region rose from 36% to 42% over the same period.

This trend is further supported through a growing number of regional mobility schemes around the world, such as those among the ASEAN countries and of course the landmark Erasmus programme in Europe. But also of note here are an increasing number of bilateral mobility arrangements, including Mexico’s Proyecta 100,000 initiative and the corresponding 100,000 Strong in the Americas programme for US students.

Finally, intra-regional mobility is also supported and extended via a series of regional hubs: emerging study destinations that are explicitly expanding capacity but also actively recruiting abroad, and especially so within their respective regions.

The emerging patterns of increasing regional mobility that result from all of these factors are an important trend in international education today and, we expect, will be a key determinant of the competitive landscape of tomorrow.


The Brazilian market for English language learning

August 26, 2015 at 11:38 PM | Posted in Education and Training, Funding, Government | Leave a comment

Source: ICEF Monitor

The Brazilian government has in recent years been working to boost higher education participation, increasing demand for overseas study, and extending the reach of STEM learning (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths), all as part of a slate of wide-ranging development goals.

Partly as a result of a broad effort to internationalise higher education, the number of Brazilians studying abroad has increased by as much as 600% over the past decade. But strengthening English language acquisition for Brazilian students has been a slower process.

English in Brazil

Brazil uses English extensively in business and advertising, broadcasts English music and movies routinely, and has fast-growing tourism and trade links with the US. Considering all these facts, it would be easy to imagine that Brazil’s overall levels of English proficiency are fairly high, but according to Education First’s English Proficiency Index, the country ranks in the “low proficiency” category, as opposed to neighbouring Argentina, for example, which scores in the “high proficiency” band on the EF Index.

As even this simple comparison might suggest, while English proficiency has improved in Brazil over the last several years, other Latin American countries have improved more quickly still. As of 2014, only about 5% of Brazilians claimed to be able to speak English. Proficiency among that group is higher in the Atlantic South, where São Paulo and the megacity Rio de Janeiro are located.

The graphic below from EF illustrates English ability by geographic region, and highlights that no region was assessed for “very high” or “high” proficiency.

English proficiency in Brazil by region. Source: EF English Proficiency Index

Because of a uniquely diverse population that arises from Brazil’s colonial past and subsequent waves of immigration from all over the world, the government has for decades focused on Portuguese language learning as a way of strengthening national identity. Today’s efforts to shift the focus to English have been hindered by the Brazilian constitution and the educational autonomy it bestows on states and institutions across the country.

There has, however, still been progress. In 2011, the Brazilian government launched Science Without Borders (Ciência sem Fronteiras, or CsF – also known as the Brazil Scientific Mobility Undergraduate Program) to promote the expansion of science and research. This ambitious programme in turn revealed a need for stronger English skills at the tertiary level.

Despite minimal federal influence over language learning, the government was able to create the parallel English Without Borders initiative in 2012 as part of a broader Idiomas sem Fronteiras (Languages Without Borders) programme. It aims to increase the proficiency of students outside Science Without Borders, and the initiative has proven popular with both students and teachers.

The programme has also brought about changes to Brazil’s use of the TOEFL ITP testing framework. In the past, the tests had been restricted to public university students and enrollees in Science Without Borders, but they are now open to Brazilian students of English and administered at universities accredited by Languages Without Borders.

As many as 200,000 students have completed the testing to date, and Denise Abreu e Lima, president of the Languages Without Borders programme, says of the expanded testing effort, “We started to realise where we need to invest more, at what levels we need to give more access, and what types of courses we must offer. And it is the national average [TOEFL ITP scores] that give us this return, not the individual student’s average.”

In another recent push for improved language proficiency, the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Education jointly created Pronatec Turismo, which offered language classes to more than 150,000 tourism workers in advance of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Those who registered were able to pursue 160 hours of English or Spanish classes for free. To date this programme, now extended through 2016 to help prepare for the Olympic Games in Rio, has trained or partially trained millions.

The role of national and state governments

The Ministry of Tourism has long offered such professional development programmes. Meanwhile, the national government sets broad goals such as the National Education Guidelines, and has launched important initiatives like Languages Without Borders. But these efforts cannot be as effective as a coordinated, national approach, particularly in a country as vast and culturally diverse as Brazil.

While Science Without Borders has been an unqualified success, not least because it spotlighted issues that brought about a stronger focus on English language learning, it is states and municipalities that maintain most English learning initiatives in Brazil’s heavily decentralised education system. Many of these efforts manage only limited success, according to the British Council, “due to unbalanced curriculums, limited class time, teachers lacking the linguistic and pedagogical knowledge to effectively guide students, and minimal resources.”

The National Education Guidelines offer another example of the challenge of Brazilian decentralisation. These guidelines urge public secondary schools to focus on the teaching of modern foreign languages but without singling out English. Thus, many institutions offer a slate of foreign languages. In rural communities where Portuguese is sometimes spoken as a second language after indigenous languages, English exposure is even more minimal.

And then there is the obvious prominence of Spanish in the region as well. Centre of Language Studies data for the State of São Paulo, seen in the chart below, summarises enrolment levels in language courses for middle and high school students and reveals that English is selected at a rate five times less than that of Spanish. This is no doubt reasonable in a country surrounded by Spanish-speaking nations, however it is something of a stark illustration of where English language learning stands, even in one of Brazil’s more English-proficient regions.

Secondary school enrolment in foreign language courses, State of São Paulo. Source: Brazilian Ministry of Education

The place of English

As the preceding points reflect, each of the country’s 27 territories has its own framework for foreign language teaching. The British Council’s May 2015 report, English in Brazil: An examination of policy, perceptions and influencing factors, acknowledges that these various systems are too opaque to allow for reliable information gathering. However, online surveys of Brazilians and Brazilian companies conducted by the British Council yielded a number of interesting findings, including the following:

  • 82% of respondents who have not learned English say they would do so in order to improve their employment prospects.
  • 61% of respondents say the reason why they do not learn English is because it is too expensive, but other reasons include a lack of time, and the perception that results take a long time to achieve.
  • There is a strong correlation between level of education and English learning, as well as between income level and English proficiency. Further, English is needed more in heavily internationalised industries such as finance and professional services, and less in more locally based industries such as real estate, construction, and engineering.
  • 48% of survey respondents who say they know English reveal that they learned it to improve employment prospects, but just 9% stated the skill was actually necessary for their job.
  • In general, English is considered to be a luxury acquisition or an extracurricular activity, though younger people consider it increasingly valuable for personal growth.

Burgeoning demand for study abroad

New data from the Brazilian Educational and Language Travel Association (BELTA) points to an impressive 600% increase from 2003 to 2013. “In 2003, 34,000 Brazilians held abroad courses, while in 2013 there were 202,000 exchange students. Already in 2014, about 240,000 students have taken courses abroad,” says the association. BELTA adds that a majority of Brazilian students abroad are between the ages of 18 and 30.

When Brazilians do go abroad they prefer the US, with substantial numbers also going to Portugal, France, Germany, the UK, and Ireland – the latter country having received a boost in recent years due to increasing numbers of Brazilians opting to study there. The newspaper Irish Times described this development as “an unprecedented wave,” and indeed, Brazilian applications to Ireland have nearly doubled from 646 in 2013 to 1,084 this year.

BELTA points out as well that some of the recent shifts in student preferences have been toward more affordable destinations, like Canada and Ireland, as Brazilian students and parents react to the strengthening of the US dollar and Euro against the Brazilian currency, the real.

Near-term outlook

The association adds that the economy will be a big factor in determining whether the dramatic recent growth will continue at the same pace in the years ahead. “Until [2014] we had a very upward curve, but this curve will depend on the economic factors that take place in the country,” said BELTA President Carlos Robles, who added, “we are seeing that the economy is in a mild downturn.”

However, with millions of tourists expected for the 2016 Summer Olympics, more Brazilians than ever are interested in learning English. One entity in Brazil’s private sector that has taken a leading role is Education First, which has pledged to teach English to one million citizens before the Olympics. Working in partnership with the Brazilian Olympic Committee and the Brazilian Ministry of Education, the company has made its online platform Englishtown available to 550,000 high school students and 450,000 Olympic volunteers for free.

And English is more recognised as a useful skill today than in the past, mainly due to Brazil’s large population of young people who see English language learning from a fresh perspective.

Among these potential learners, factors such as lack of access, high cost, and a perception of the language as not truly needed present the biggest obstacles to widespread acquisition.

The wave of English-language tourism destined to accompany the Olympics will help demonstrate the utility of the language to Brazilians, but demand is not truly the concern. The demand is there and growing. But in vast and diverse Brazil, it is the logistical issues – central planning, funding, and access to programmes – that are likely to persist in efforts at home to build national proficiency in English.

Particularly in that context, study abroad will remain a key means of language acquisition for Brazilian students going forward. But the expansion of English language teaching within Brazil, and rising concerns with respect to the affordability of study abroad, appear to be opening new opportunities for foreign providers to deliver programmes within the country as well.

For additional background on this key Latin American market, please see some of our recent coverage on Brazil in the ICEF Monitor archive.


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