Countries not monitoring study abroad scholarships
The Rationale for Sponsoring Students to Undertake International Study: An assessment of national student mobility scholarship programmes was produced by the British Council and German Academic Exchange Service or DAAD, working with the Boston College Center for International Higher Education and the GO Group.
The study discovered that governments also seemed to be failing to provide support for students on their return home. This was despite the fact that governments were funding hundreds of thousands of international students a year at a cost of around US$35,000 per student.
The document presents the findings of questionnaires with international student mobility schemes in 11 countries: Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.
Apart from counting the number of grant alumni who return to their institutions after completing studies abroad, none of the countries was known to be measuring other institutional impacts.
In Indonesia for example, while administrators of the SPIRIT programme had planned to analyse how successful scholarship alumni were in helping government agencies reform, they had not yet done so.
Michael Peak, the British Council's education research manager, said all activities supporting student mobility were welcome, and were of great value to universities and individuals who could use the knowledge, experience and connections gained to benefit their home countries.
"But our research highlighted many missed opportunities, where national governments invest in supporting their talented students to study internationally, but don't engage with them on their return home.
"We believe national scholarship programmes will only fully maximise their impact when they are designed to meet specific objectives, and when the experience of returning students is fully tapped."
Mobility on the rise
Individual cross-border mobility has expanded rapidly over the past few years. In 2000, a total of 2.1 million students worldwide participated in tertiary education abroad: by 2010, the number had risen to 4.1 million.
Estimates suggest that 7.2 million students will be seeking tertiary education abroad by 2025. Most are moving of their own accord from developing nations (education importers) to developed ones (education exporters), especially those where English is spoken.
They undertake study abroad for many reasons, the report said, among them to obtain knowledge and credentials not available at home, to gain the prestige of a foreign degree, to improve their professional prospects and, in some cases, to emigrate.
Most mobile students seek full degrees, with roughly equal numbers pursuing undergraduate and graduate study. Business, management and STEM - science, technology, engineering and mathematics - fields attract the majority of international enrolments. Most students pay for their education themselves.
The most commonly cited rationale for establishing outward mobility programmes was an interest in advancing national development - which was not surprising, considering that all of the programmes under review were funded in whole or in part with public resources.
The report pointed out that several of the case study countries - China, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Russia and Vietnam - had seen notable shifts in their political systems and-or had moved to market-based economies within the past 20 years.
Others - Brazil, India and Mexico - had wanted to improve on economic progress that had led to a burgeoning middle-class.
All had made general advances in education, health and economic strength, and were experiencing growth in tertiary education enrolments. For example, Indonesia's DIKTI programme and Pakistan's OSS-II programme had tracked the number of academic articles accepted for publication by refereed journals. In both cases, the numbers were increasing.
A striking difference when comparing outward mobility programmes was their size.
At one end of the spectrum was Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah Scholarship Program, or KASP, which offers about 30,000 scholarships per year. At the opposite end Egypt, India and Pakistan each sponsor, among their portfolio of programmes, a handful of scholarships that send fewer than 50 participants abroad each year, with several sending fewer than five.
Excluding these large and small schemes, programmes sending between 500 and 1,000 recipients abroad each year were most common among the case countries reviewed.
It was clear that resource availability was the principal factor in determining how many scholarships a programme would distribute.
When planning the President's Mobility Scholarship scheme programme in Russia, for example, champions called for a scheme that would send 10,000 students abroad each year for tertiary study - in the end, financial realities resulted in a programme that sends 100.
Brazil has sent more than 39,000 students and scholars abroad since 2011. Saudi Arabia has funded more than 165,000 scholars abroad on KASP scholarships since 2005. And schemes in Mexico and Kazakhstan have sent more than 65,000 and 10,000 students abroad respectively over their long histories.
That several national outward mobility scholarship programmes have been in existence for more than 20 years, and that many new schemes have been established since 2000, showed that countries increasingly consider them a worthwhile investment.
The report's authors suggest that regular assessments of international scholarship schemes' outcomes and impacts should be set against their goals, for comparison and monitoring purposes.
Programme evaluations at regular intervals would also help determine the level and quality of impact and identify potential areas for improvement. National governments should consider hiring third-party auditors to review administrative performance and programme impact.
Given that mobility scholarships provided resources and opportunities most directly to individuals - who in turn were expected to make a positive contribution to their countries - tracking the professional trajectories of participants and alumni was a crucial aspect of impact assessment.
Further, alumni assessments designed to provide insight into how the international study experience affected participants over time would yield information useful to programme design and implementation, said the researchers.
Scheme administrators should also consider collecting data on the experiences of institutions abroad that host scholarship recipients, as well as those at home with which alumni are professionally or personally affiliated.