Paths to partnerships, mobility and brain circulation

Understanding that strong academics are key to improving the quality and relevance of higher education, in 2002 Pakistan embarked on a massive faculty development initiative that awarded over 10,000 international and even more local scholarships. The project has been a global success story in both boosting and internationalising the country’s academic core.

Professor Sohail Naqvi, vice-chancellor of Lahore University of Management Sciences and former executive director of the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan, and senior colleagues from elsewhere in Asia and Africa described a range of approaches to higher education development and internationalisation. Only a few are described here.

They were speaking at the inaugural symposium of the Higher Education Forum for Africa, Asia and Latin America or HEFAALA, held last weekend in Durban, South Africa, in a session that tackled two key issues – South-South and South-South-North cooperation, and internationalisation-regionalisation: academic mobility and brain drain or circulation.

The Pakistan experience

Drawing on eight years of leadership of the Higher Education Commission, Naqvi said that in the decade from 2002 the organisation formulated and implemented a key academic development strategy that continues today.

It focused on developing indigenous talent “and doing something at the international level”, and on producing the next generation of academics as well as upgrading the qualifications of existing faculty. Two primary programmes were launched.

One involved 10,000 international scholarships and more local scholarships that included an opportunity for every PhD scholar to spend six months abroad. The only stipulation was that the university abroad had to be ranked one of the world’s top 200 in the particular discipline.

“All of these programmes are driven by financial constraints – how can you get the maximum bang for the minimum amount of money?” Naqvi told the symposium.

Where there were good relationships with universities abroad, it was possible to bypass the tuition fee issue and just provide a stipend. “If the student is good, as they were in most cases, the university will provide you with six months. So the six months becomes one year and your local PhD turns into an international PhD.”

The second programme, said Naqvi, was about faculty development. “Everybody understands that the United States is the leader but US$50,000 a year is impossible. So we created a 10%-90% scheme. We said we would send only 10% to the top universities in the world, regardless of cost. So that is Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford etc.”

To ensure there was a balance across all disciplines, a quota system was introduced with more than a dozen categories. Later, politics introduced another dimension – there also had to be regional quotas within Pakistan. “It became very complicated to manage but we did it.”

For the remaining 90%, there were scholarships available to study in Europe, where tuition fees are low or do not exist. Government-to-government linkages were developed through the development agencies of seven countries.

The model was based on a local test through which the best scholars were selected. Experts from the partner countries were invited to select candidates from that pool. “It gave them confidence that they were selecting the best people.”

The development agencies received a management fee to manage the Pakistani scholars in their countries, “which meant they were accountable to us. It also ensured every student was accounted for, managed and came back. Well, almost all came back,” said Naqvi.

“Some disappeared, but Google helped a lot because you just can’t disappear in the world anymore.” A blacklist was created, featuring the names of people who had ‘disappeared’. “Even if they went to get an apartment, somebody would Google and say, whoa, you are a defaulter. So we managed to get most of them back. “But we also had a system where they were inducted into faculty positions locally. So there were jobs to come back to.”

Naqvi said the programmes had been highly successful. An unanticipated impact was that Pakistani students “suddenly realised that maybe they had something that the world wants. Students don’t realise that the world is looking for talent, and our country is brimming [with it] – we have 200 million people so statistically, an enormous amount of great people.”

The result has been that many more Pakistani students have pursued study abroad themselves: people have understood that it is a vehicle for self-development. “With higher education being one of the major growth businesses in the world, it is difficult for a good PhD not to find a job somewhere,” Naqvi pointed out.

He is not worried about brain drain, arguing that talent returns if the environment is attractive. “So the onus is on the country to provide the environment, and then it becomes a bonus to have your people studying and working at the best institutions in the world."

Brazil – Struggling to internationalise

Professor Marcelo Knobel of the Gleb Wataghin Physics Institute of Universidade Estadual de Campinas – University of Campinas or UNICAMP – told the symposium that student and academic mobility in Brazil was low.

“I don’t know if it is because of language or the late growth of universities.” A recent study revealed that only 3.5% of faculty members were from abroad – the rest were Brazilian.

Latin America has an interesting language context that impacts on internationalisation, said Knobel. The dominant languages of Spanish and Portuguese emerged from the colonial period, with Brazil the only country speaking Portuguese – albeit a lot, since the population is 200 million people. This dampens potential regional mobility.

Similarly, in Africa there are few Portuguese-speaking countries – Mozambique and Angola – in a sea of English- and French-speaking nations. “However, at my university there are more students from Pakistan than from Angola and Mozambique."

International student mobility among Brazilians was given a major boost by the Science Without Borders initiative, which sent 100,000 mostly undergraduate students abroad.

Despite Brazil’s membership of the BRICS bloc with Russia, India, China and South Africa – and in a classic example of ‘dependency’, Knobel pointed out – almost all the Brazilian students went to the United States, Japan or European countries.

Economic woes have dried up funding, there had not been a good assessment of Science Without Borders and so the results are not yet known, and under the current government it is unlikely that the initiative will continue or internationalisation will progress.

Where Brazil has been spectacularly successful, said Knobel, has been in building a strong postgraduate system over the past six decades. “During this period the country sent a lot of students abroad. Now in Brazil we have 12,000 PhDs being produced per year.”

Since many of the PhDs must enter Brazil’s huge tertiary system, there must be jobs offered. “This is a continual investment in higher education, but the country is still rather insular.”

Egypt-Japan university

Egypt’s huge higher education sector enrols nearly three million students who pay almost no tuition fees – undergraduates pay less than US$5 a year. There are 120,000 academics working in 25 public universities and a similar number of private institutions. Universities generate 70% of Egypt’s research and publications. Some universities are massive, with 300,000 students.

There are some 48,000 international students, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics’ Global Flow of Tertiary-Level Students, mostly from Malaysia, Kuwait and Indonesia. Around 20,000 Egyptian students were studying abroad in 2014.

The country has pursued a very different kind of internationalisation through the Egypt-Japan University of Science and Technology. It is an unusual institution established in 2010 under a partnership agreement between the Egyptian and Japanese governments, according to Professor Ahmed El-Gohary, the vice-chancellor.

E-Just, as it is called, is research oriented and enrols postgraduate students through a competitive system in eight tracks of engineering. There are 170 students and in six years the university has produced some 105 PhD or masters graduates.

“The environment is totally international. We have short-term and long-term experts coming from Japan. All of our students should have an international publication as a prerequisite for graduation,” El-Gohary told the HEFAALA symposium.

“Our salary scale – everything – is totally different from the public universities. For six years we have been number one in publication calculated per faculty.” The number of publications in peer-reviewed journals is 2.9 per academic a year, and for international conferences 5.7.

All PhD students go for nine months to Japan, where there are 12 partner universities that support E-Just. There are now efforts underway to build a similar network of Egyptian and African universities so that there is a more balanced consortium.

E-Just is “very expensive” by Egyptian standards – US$10,000 a year – but currently there are only sponsored students. All must graduate with a masters in two years or a PhD in three.

Recently E-Just has attracted students from elsewhere in Africa. It currently has five from Kenya, Zambia and Nigeria, and in the new intake there will be five more Africans. “We are very eager to collaborate with universities in Africa – let’s think regionalisation more than internationalisation,” declared El-Gohary.