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24 Jul, 2006

International Student Traffic Set to Become “Bi Busine$$”

International students are big business — or as they are now being referred to, “Big Busine$$” — with important implications for migration issues as well as domestic tourism and Visiting Friends and Relatives (VFR) traffic.

A report by the British Council anticipates a global demand of 5.8 million students studying away from home by 2020 of which roughly 850,000 will be in the U.K., with Chinese being one of the largest groups.

There are over two million tertiary students worldwide and OECD estimates are for an estimated 8 million students by 2025. According to World Bank figures, international students are estimated in 2003 to comprise 13% of service export earnings in Australia, 8% in NZ and 4.2% in the US.

In China, in 2002, there were an estimated 60,000 foreign students, of which 70% were from Asia, Europe 12% and use 11%. This number is growing rapidly.

Educational travel is being fuelled by globalisation, the increasing influence of multinationals, powerful new technologies that are making education more accessible to people and huge competition between universities and countries to attract foreign students.

As countries adjust their visa regimes to attract students, universities are also expanding abroad. The many foreign universities setting up joint ventures and partnerships in Thailand are only part of it; others include Monash university in Malaysia and Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Vietnam.

At the World University Presidents Summit (WUPS) here last week, a report by Sir Colin Campbell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nottingham, U.K., showed how students are on the move, and the opportunities emerging therefrom. He said:

“A student from Brazil comes to Nottingham to study for a degree for a degree in international business or other subject.

“During her first year she learns that the university has a campus in China and realises what a tremendous advantage a year abroad in China could have, with the security that she will be taking the same modules.

“In semester two of the second year, she sets off, with a travel bursary, to the University of Nottingham, Ningbo, China, having taken a basic Mandarin course in Year One.

“While in China, she realises that the University of Nottingham is a member of the international network, Universitas 21, and the China campus is as much a part of that network. She applies for a one-semester study abroad opportunity at another Universitas 21 member, the University of Melbourne.

“In year three, she returns to the U.K., but in essence, she has crossed no borders because of the infrastructure provided by international campuses. Hopefully, she has become an immensely employable graduate.”

However, significant debate is emerging among the universities about education becoming increasingly commercialised and dominated by institutions of the developed countries.

Developing countries are also seriously worried about a “brain drain” of talent and skills as well as finding ways to make education available to the less privileged members of society.

The most critical issue is related to the quality of future leadership. While one force wants to create a truly global, open-minded world order, a countervailing concern is that universities are becoming increasingly politicised and “de-secularised” by the growing influence of religiously denominated institutions.

Attended by 1,582 delegates, including 613 from 87 countries as diverse as Angola and Brazil, plus 12 education ministers, the WUPS offered an exceedingly powerful opportunity for discussion of His Majesty the King’s sufficiency-economy concept and its applicability in the educational domain.

Following on from a keynote presentation on the subject by Dr Chirayu Issarangkun na Ayuthaya, Chairman of NIDA as well as of the Sufficiency Economy Movement Sub-Commission, the concept was avidly discussed in a number of the workshops, virtually ensuring that it has taken root as an antidote and alternative to the ravages of globalisation.

The convention also provided an opportunity for Thailand’s educational institutions to get global exposure. The travel & tourism industry was well represented in the university exhibition represented alongside the convention.

Although the Dusit Thani College was the only dedicated travel & tourism institution among the exhibitors, a number of other universities featured the diversity of their many courses in an industry that badly needs trained manpower.

The Suan Dusit Rajabhat University is now offering courses in fruit and vegetable carving as part of its home economics course. It had a colourful exhibit featuring a number of students demonstrating the art.

The Mae Fah Luang University offers a degree in Applied Thai Medicine and Chandrakasem Rajabhat University has a Bachelor’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. A representative of Kasetsart University, once known largely for agricultural expertise, said among its most popular international programmes are for aerospace engineers.

The convention will also generate spin-off business for Thailand. Already in the pipeline are the Universiade conference between 9-12 August 2007 and the World Universities Debating Championship between December 25, 2007 to January 5, 2008, the first time it will be held in Thailand.

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