The Institute of International Education’s annual Open Doors® 2021 Report on International Educational Exchange was released yesterday - Monday, Nov 15, 2021. While the U.S. remained open and enrolled over 700,000 students from more than 200 places of origin at the undergraduate, graduate, and non-degree levels, there were also blows from the 2020-21 academic year.
The findings of the 2021 Fall International Student Enrollment Snapshot reflect the resilience of U.S. higher education institutions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Higher education institutions reported a 68% increase in the number of new international students enrolling for the first time at a U.S. institution, a notable surge from the 46% decline reported in Fall 2020. Overall, the total number of international students (enrolled and OPT) increased by 4% in Fall 2021, a rebound from the 15% decrease in Fall 2020. In addition, 99% of responding U.S. institutions reported that they are holding classes in-person or implementing a hybrid education model, demonstrating the ongoing commitment to return students to campus or offer options to study online. Open Doors 2021 Press Release, (November 15, 2021)
Global Mobility & the Global Convention on Recognition of Higher Education Qualifications
Consider now that worldwide, the pool of internationally mobile students expanded rapidly over the past two decades. In 2000 there were 1.6 million internationally mobile students. By 2020 that number was 3.5 times larger at 5.6 million. What is significant is that while the number of international students choosing the US as their destination increased, the share of the international students coming to the US declined from 28% to 20%.
This is concerning. There are many new players in the higher education space which is leading to increased competition for internationally mobile students. Many of our global competitors have set national agendas funded by their governments to increase the number of international students studying in their country, several having set goals to achieve targets by 2020. Many of these were stalled during the pandemic but it is a good bet that their efforts will pick up as we come out of the pandemic.
While the decision-making process for students is complicated, and the market is becoming crowded with very attractive offers for students and scholars, there is something else that should be getting our attention.
Each of the other countries in the top ten list of destinations for international students, and indeed nearly all other countries, are working toward ratifying and adopting The Global Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education to facilitate global mobility… in higher education for the mutual benefit of qualification holders, higher education institutions, and employers. This recognition of qualifications provides an attractive element for students looking to have their education assessed and recognized. In fact, the governments of Norway, Tunisia, and the United Kingdom held a side event in cooperation with UNESCO to renew momentum around this global treaty and support Member States’ efforts to both ratify and implement it. It brought together Ministers and high-level representatives of the five States Parties – Norway, Nicaragua, Estonia, France, and Romania – as well as Tunisia and the United Kingdom who are in the final stages of joining the Convention.
For various reasons, including the decentralized and autonomous nature of our education system, the U.S. is one of a very small number of countries that have not been a part of a prior Regional Convention, nor the Global Convention. Meanwhile, countries that offer competition to the US are aligning their practices to the convention, which may in the short term not have much impact, but in the long term could pose a threat if the US remains an outlier in the global higher education marketplace.
Yet, it is important to point out that the principles and philosophy of many of the HEIs in the US are in alignment with the Global Convention on Recognition. This includes principles of access, affordability, consistent philosophy and practices, transparency, fairness, clarity, and non-discriminatory practices, respect for diversity, and an appeals process.
This is an opportunity for U.S. HEIs, like yours, to commit to these principles. AACRAO wants to provide a path for you to do just that by working with you – our institutional colleagues- and providing you tools and resources to try to get in alignment with the convention and other global movements so that we can have equal footing in the global marketplace. The US HEIs can be seen as a place that continues to be a leader in international education and receiving international students and is aware and welcoming in these basic principles in Article III.
Let’s make sure we are talking about them and putting these principles front and center and that we have ways to articulate that to the rest of the world and to the prospective students we would like to bring to our campuses.
Take advantage of AACRAO's International resources and take the Global Recognition: Readiness Assessment.