Germany, Malaysia excel at supporting international HE

International research collaboration is a growing national policy preoccupation, according to a 26-country study by the British Council released last week – but quality assurance is lagging behind. Germany and Malaysia emerged as having the most balanced portfolios of national policies supporting international higher education.

Indeed, governments across the globe are providing support for international higher education as they have realised its benefits and the importance of national policies – “from Chile and Colombia through to Turkey and Kazakhstan to the Philippines and Australia”.

The study, The Shape of Global Higher Education: National policies framework for international engagement, was released at the Going Global conference held from 3-6 May in Cape Town – the first time the flagship British Council higher education gathering has been held in Africa.

The council said in a release that it provided a “first comparative framework through which the relative strengths and weaknesses of different countries’ higher education policies can be judged”, and was intended as a guide for policy-makers, leaders and professionals.

Principal author of the study Janet Ilieva and co-author Michael Peak used 37 qualitative indicators to measure the national policies of five countries in the Americas, five in or around Europe, seven in East Asia, three in South Asia as well as the Middle East and North Africa, and six in Sub-Saharan Africa*.

The main objectives of the research – which drew on earlier work by the British Council – were to evaluate countries’ policies on international higher education and to identify areas supported by national governments. To this end, more than 100 pieces of legislation and national strategies were reviewed and evaluated.

“There is hardly a country left unaffected by the global flows of students, teaching and research, so the value of a greater understanding of national higher education systems has never been more important,” said Professor Jo Beall, director of education and society for the British Council.

“The future of higher education will depend on successful, sustainable, mutually beneficial partnerships."

Key findings

The study produced nine key findings.

First was the rising number of countries committed to supporting international higher education, evidenced through strategies including some that are in reformed higher education legislation. “These are strong signals of readiness to engage internationally and to support their higher education systems’ global positioning,” the report says.

Second was the discovery that among the countries analysed, “Germany and Malaysia have the most balanced portfolio of national policies supporting international higher education”.

Third, a large number of countries were providing financial support for international higher education, with most of the spending on student mobility and ensuring equitable access as well as preventing brain drain.

“These are mainly countries with large higher education systems such as China, Colombia, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Turkey.”

Fourth, student mobility is one of the most highly developed areas of national policies supporting international higher education, with 23 out of 26 of the countries studied performing strongly in this area.

Unsurprisingly, policy support is mainly aimed at attracting students, for instance through favourable student visa policies. A much smaller number – notably Australia, Germany and recently Russia – have widened access to their labour markets for international students.

Fifth, the research identified quality assurance as an area of weakness, with the focus in cross-border education being predominantly on higher education provision. “The countries faring well are those with an established record of delivering transnational education programmes, such as Australia, Malaysia, Germany and the United Kingdom.”

A sixth key finding is the need to develop recognition of transnational education degrees, because currently only a small number of countries have formal measures at national level to recognise these degrees.

The research finds higher education institutions to be the major drivers of international higher education, which they see as a means to build teaching and research capacity.

“In some countries, to counteract the lack of national support, higher education institutions are leading their own internationalisation initiatives,” the report finds.

Eighth, the policy preoccupation with research has been partly driven by the growing influence of global rankings. “Increasingly, research carried out in international collaborations features in national-level assessments which determine the levels of funding across research-active higher education institutions.”


The report concludes that international higher education is increasingly becoming a global policy preoccupation, signalling the preparedness of countries to engage internationally and support their higher education systems’ global positioning.

“Student mobility is one of the most prominent and often the only component of countries’ strategies,” wrote Ilieva and Peak, but most have been “reluctant to allow their international graduates to access the local labour market”.

“International higher education is also used by some governments to support the building of local research capacity.”

University rankings have piled pressure on governments wanting to improve the rankings of home universities.

“This is manifested by support for international research collaborations, consideration of collaborative research outputs in national research assessments for funding purposes, and support for outward academic mobility, mainly for training purposes."

The report’s ninth key finding is a growing need and calls for greater synergy and coordination between national policies, to increase their effectiveness.

“Indeed, much greater alignment of national policies is observed in regional initiatives,” with examples being the European Higher Education Area, Association of Southeast Asian Nations and, in Latin America, the Pacific Alliance and members of the Mercosur trade bloc.

“In addition to this greater impact, alignment and synergies between nations’ policies are likely to counteract some of the unintended consequences of internationalisation, such as brain drain.”

To allow users to analyse the study’s data including its 37 indicators, the British Council has produced the Global Gauge – an interactive tool for policy-makers that can isolate specific measures within the data.

* The 26 countries included in the study were: the Americas – Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and the United States; Europe – Germany, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkey and the United Kingdom; East Asia – Australia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam; in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa – Egypt, India and Pakistan; and Sub-Saharan Africa – Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.