Taking a global view of the student experience

The ‘student experience’ exists in a global context, and there is a need to critically examine its different meanings across national and regional environments.

There are forces that are reshaping the student experience, with particular reference to the pressures of globalisation. Taking a global view, is the student experience becoming more homogenised or more diversified over time?

Over half of all international students study in five countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Australia; and over half of all internationally mobile students are from Asia.

What can students expect from emerging patterns of provision worldwide? And what do institutional decision-makers need to know to meet changing international student demand within national circumstances of retrenchment or expansion in competition with virtual, private, public and for-profit rivals at home and abroad?

The student experience in an era of globalisation

There is no universal ‘student experience’, but the term refers to student-related aspects of higher education.

While taking a broad perspective, discourses that homogenise student experiences are not useful, but there is a danger that the marketisation and commercialisation of higher education is leaving the student experience out altogether.

China has the largest higher education system in the world, yet little is known about the impact of internationalisation on students’ experiences.

The big picture of economic and political globalisation needs to be related to the student experience, such as cultural differences in learning, the role of academic literacy, distance provision and quality in the context of competition, what a globally connected undergraduate curriculum can offer, and the shift of the role of higher education in the assessment and employability of graduates.

These themes affect mobile students around the world, as well as the experiences of students in different countries – students in their home countries, students who leave to study abroad and incoming international students.

They impact on the destinations students choose, the quality of experience, and the role of international degrees within and beyond national borders.

Countries and contexts

What the terms 'internationalisation' and 'globalisation' mean around the world varies immensely. Perspectives from the West are not universally shared throughout the world, and there are multiple regional spheres and networks, such as growing education hubs in the Middle East and South East Asia.

Furthermore, countries’ participation in the global exchange of students varies, such as India being a low importer of students but a high exporter, China educating large numbers of students from the East Asian region, and the UK sending relatively few students abroad while being known as a global hub of internationalisation.

There is increasing diversity within the international student population and a blurring of the boundaries of ‘home’ and ‘international’, concepts that fail to capture differences across students in many countries.

Many of the challenges of teaching and learning that traditionally arise in the context of international students are significant issues for many home students as well.

For example in the UK, English is not the first language for a significant number of home students. And in South Africa issues of academic literacy and language are as complex for home as for international students.

Across various countries differences in class, ethnic origin, religion, language and gender play a much larger role. This is seen in the interplay of politics, public policies and social structure in higher education in Chile.

There are gaps in knowledge of how universities frame their understanding of internationalisation, how academics construct meanings of inclusive practice and the conditions that actually make a positive difference for diverse student groups.

At present, rather than promoting inclusion, conceptual frames in internationalisation literature can polarise and homogenise ‘home’ and ‘international’ students. This is further complicated by the role of Europeanisation and Africanisation.

Convergence and divergence

The widening participation and the global flow of students have had both convergent and divergent effects within higher education systems.

Students participate in a market and consider their choice of institutions in which to study, and for many students this includes regional, national and international options. In Singapore, a ‘global but Asia’ mission was adopted to meet national needs, with a curriculum that extends globally but is rooted locally.

Also, it is important for institutions to consider their investments in distance and overseas provision, as providers of international student services, as gateways for student and staff exchange and in relation to quality and standards.

India has been investing heavily in both domestic virtual knowledge networks and international institutional partnerships.

In an increasingly open higher education market there are also restrictions on student travel and residence in many countries, and increasingly variable fees for home and international students, creating volatile patterns of enrolment.

The global student experience

A global view signifies the mutual trends of convergence and divergence within globalisation and internationalisation, and explores what it means in specific aspects of the student experience and across different countries and regions in the world.

More attention needs to be paid to diverse students and curriculum frameworks in order to foster greater understanding and inclusion inside and outside the classroom. These vary around the world, and need to address specific local issues, as well as linking in with wider student support functions.

This identifies a number of tasks for leading and managing a diverse student body, including fostering new meanings about identity and internationalisation; promoting inclusive practices and learning environments; and developing relationships between universities and the communities in which they are situated.

Such approaches also provide diverse students with capabilities and skills necessary in the modern global workforce.

Hopefully this will instigate more national, international and comparative research into the study of students in higher education.

* Camille B Kandiko is a research fellow at King’s College, London. Her co-edited volume, The Global Student Experience: An international and comparative analysis, was recently released in the Routledge International Higher Education series. Click here to find out more.