Internationalisation of higher education has become a reality with a systematic increase in both short-term and full-cycle mobility. It plays an important role in enhancing intercultural competences and understanding, which is very important in the globalised world and is crucial for the development of societies where everyone can live in a peaceful environment. Therefore, the European Students’ Union (ESU) finds the attention given by the European Commission’s (EC) communication on internationalisation important and appropriate, as this topic is among the most important to be addressed. Throughout the communication, however, there is no clear understanding if higher education institutions (HEIs) from other continents are a threat or possible partners. What is more, more emphasis should be placed on the need for balanced mobility and therefore EU students’ mobility outside of the Union.
ESU strongly supports the EC’s emphasis on an increasingly student-centred approach to education, however we encourage the EC to recognise the vital importance of interaction between academic staff and students. Higher education plays a leading role in democratic development and internationalisation provides space for advancing democracy around the world. In this context, ESU encourages the EC to treat internationalisation as an opportunity for cooperation, development, and mutual benefit, rather than competition.
The presence of international students on a given campus, in and of itself, greatly benefits the quality of education for all others physically proximate. In this light, just as it should be certain that no higher education institution sees national students as a source of revenue, international students should not be seen as an income source for higher education institutions.
Student support systems must be available to international students. Just as with national students, international students with special needs should be provided with access to the required services (e.g. health care, child care) regardless of the length of stay. As financing remains a barrier to mobility, governments should ensure the accessibility and portability of financial study support. Furthermore, scholarships should be offered to students coming from non-EU countries, and to students coming from countries that are not committed to sufficiently funding their higher education system – and consequently their future. The host country should encourage the use of the knowledge gained by students for its further spread and mutual benefit including in their country of origin.
Steps need to be taken to remove barriers to granting of visas for mobile students. Furthermore, non-EU students should have also the opportunity to stay for long term mobility programs and the visas granted need to provide the opportunity to be employed in the hosting country.
ESU believes increased attention should to be paid to the implementation of recognition mechanisms. Extra assistance should be given to the European Higher Education Area countries, where implementation of the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System, for example, is still unbalanced. ESU also encourages a debate on the establishment of minimum standards in the implementation of Bologna Process action lines that will ensure countries’ follow-up on the agreements made to date. The EC’s attempt to spread the use of the EHEA transparency and recognition instruments may have a positive impact.
The high levels of youth unemployment have led to a spike in youth emigration in the past years. This is particularly prevalent in some NUS countries. The residency requirement for recent emigrants who return to their home country and wish to pursue higher education there, should be considered in this context for the purposes of admissions policies and student supports.
Fair treatments for migrant students should also be considered, with flexible arrangements for students who acquire full citizenship during the term of their college course, and access to student supports. This can be done through the fast-tracking of citizenship applications and ensuring a mechanism to re-evaluate any status, determined upon admission is in place.
We must strive for greater clarity and consistency across higher education institutions for international students towards a fairer and more uniform approach.
ESU sees as positive the EC’s continued support for staff mobility. This assists in increasing the quality of higher education. However, even though ESU supports the EC’s internationalisation at home concept development, we believe mobility is a right, and wish the EC was more ambitious in developing this matter.
Multilingualism is one of the greatest European cultural assets. Thus, language courses for international degree-seeking students must be provided to such an extent that will enable their full participation in society. What is more, using online and open access elements as a supplement to formal higher education plays a role as an additional learning instrument in the internationalised environment; therefore, provided that online elements are not used to simply replace traditional educational methods, ESU supports the EC’s position on this point.
ESU expresses its support for the further development of transnational joint degrees, however tuition fees in these programmes are just as harmful as in traditional programmes. ESU believes that quality assurance agencies in the countries involved in managing transnational joint programmes should cooperate on the quality assurance of those, which will also result in the additional benefit of increased cooperation and experience sharing between quality assurance agencies.
Cooperation between higher education institutions and businesses can be fruitful for institutions and programmes, for example for students gaining practical experience and for new developments in the working fields to be implemented in the curricula. Businesses should only have a guiding role and the cooperation must never reduce the level of student representation and influence on the decision-making in the higher education institutions.
In conclusion, ESU emphasises that students, as the key stakeholders in higher education, must be a part of the decision-making when designing national and institutional strategies for internationalisation. We appreciate that the EC considers students as such, as the topic of internationalisation is highly important to us. Thus, ESU is committed to further work on the implementation of internationalisation strategies in Europe, as are our member national unions in their countries. We look forward to further and deeper cooperation with the EC and other stakeholders in this work.