This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Student mobility promotes peace

22 international delegates attend forum on advancing global higher education

Published: October 21, 2004

Contributing Editor

University leaders from around the world gathered Saturday at the University Inn and Conference Center in Amherst to discuss ways in which higher education institutions worldwide are engaged in programs to recruit international students and send their own students abroad.

During the course of the half-day forum—held in conjunction with the investiture of UB President John B. Simpson—one theme was consistently woven through talk of the economics and demographics of such international efforts: Universities play an important role in promoting world peace.

Welcoming remarks were given by Stephen Dunnett, UB vice provost for international education, to an assembly of 22 international delegates from 16 of UB's partner institutions in 15 countries, several UB faculty, SUNY Chancellor Robert L. King and 50 audience members in attendance at the "International Forum on Student Mobility and Globalization of Higher Education." The forum was moderated by D. Bruce Johnstone, UB professor of comparative and higher education.

Forum speakers included Simpson; Maria Nowakowska, vice rector for research and international relations, Jagiellonian University in Poland; Kailash C. Upadhyaya, vice chancellor, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda in India; Homer Le Grand, dean of Faculty of Arts, Monash University in Australia; Hong Shen, vice dean of the School of Education, Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China; and Takashi Yamamoto, professor, Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology.

Their presentations and follow-up panel discussions—while providing an overview of ambitious, groundbreaking international education programs under way in the European Union, India, China, Japan, Australia and elsewhere—evoked the "higher purposes" of international programs of higher education, set against the backdrop of global market forces, terrorism and the sometimes strained relations between governments.

"International mobility and exchange remain of fundamental importance in building better relations among nations and creating a suitable climate for peaceful coexistence," Dunnett told the delegates. "In these difficult times, more than ever, we need to remind ourselves of (this)."

This theme was further expanded by Simpson, who, in an opening address to the group, noted that U.S. institutions have to do a better job of encouraging students to study abroad and learn about the world beyond their borders.

"In this regard, we have much to learn from you and your institutions." Simpson said. "Most of your countries are far ahead of ours in terms of educating students to be globally competent and interculturally sensitive. We must look to you for guidance and example as we seek to make our institution, faculty and curriculum more fully globalized."

Simpson also briefly addressed the effect of post-9/11 U.S. polices on international student mobility and pledged that UB would continue to work to shape future federal policy to ensure that the United States will be a welcoming place for international students.

"While recognizing the legitimate need to maintain homeland security and prevent terrorists from gaining entry to the United States, we Americans cannot sacrifice our longstanding and widely admired openness to international students and scholars, who are vitally important to our institutions in so many ways," Simpson said.

Though not addressed formally during the half-day-long forum, the effects of U.S. visa policies on student mobility provided a backdrop to the presentations. This was underscored by the fact that some of the international delegates in attendance had difficulty obtaining a U.S. visa for travel to UB, and other invited delegates were denied visas and were not able to attend.

Dunnett, who has lobbied the White House and State Department to relax visa restrictions on international students wishing to study in the U.S., updated the group on his efforts. He said his emphasis on the negative economic impact of the visa policy—international students contribute $63 billion annually to the U.S. economy—has become a "winning strategy" for visa reform.

"The government is beginning to recognize that the visa policy is hurtful in an economic sense," Dunnett said. "No matter who wins in the upcoming presidential election, I expect the visa policy will be more progressive in the future."

Shen of Huazhong University, who earned a doctorate in higher education from UB, was the only one of nine invited Chinese delegates able to obtain a visa for travel to the forum. Shen cited examples of three Chinese students—denied U.S. visas or unwilling to subject themselves to the visa process—now studying in Paris, Athens and Bangkok. She pointed out that the U.S. was losing the opportunity to recruit many of the 20 million hardworking Chinese students who have benefited from cultural reforms in their homeland and are eager to study abroad, particularly in the U.S.

Some of these students have enrolled in Australia's Monash University, one of the most progressively international universities in the world. In his presentation, Monash's Le Grand outlined his university's ambitious and far-reaching international pursuits, which extend to sister campuses throughout Europe, as well as in Canada and Malaysia, and most recently, South Africa.

According to Le Grand, Monash views its efforts in South Africa, where it recently constructed a 240-acre campus, as a major investment in the promotion of democracy in South Africa and other African countries.

Nowakowska of Poland outlined a comprehensive effort—called the Bologna Process—to standardize higher education and promote student exchange throughout the European Union. The process was instituted in 1999 partly to accommodate tremendous growth in the number of college students throughout the EU—in Poland, the number of college students has quadrupled to almost 2 million in the past decade, for example—and partly to ease EU countries' transition from manufacturing to knowledge-based economies, Nowakowska said.

Regarding the growing mobility of students in the European Union, "there is no way we are going to stop that, and we don't want to stop that," Nowakowska said. "The Bologna Process is not about harmonization of European higher education, not about replacing the education that we have so far because there is a lot of value in the diversity of education that we have. The Bologna Process is about making the system more transparent to increase the mobility of the student and professor."

In his presentation, Japan's Yamamoto described the country's successful effort to increase enrollment of international students to more than 100,000 in 2003 from just 10,000 students in 1983. Japan now has student-exchange agreements with 51 universities in 22 countries, including UB, Yamamoto said. Through the University Mobility in Asia and the Pacific (UMAP) program, Japan and other countries are engaged in an effort to promote international understanding through increased mobility of university students and staff.

In India, where the top university receives more than 200,000 applicants for 3,500 seats, the tremendous growth in the number of college students has given rise to increased competition for enrollment in the country's 237 universities and 10,600 colleges, according to Upadhyaya of Maharaja Sayajirao University. This has led to the establishment of a wide range of new colleges, some of questionable quality.

"It's mind boggling the number of students entering the university education system," Upadhyaya said. "It's always a race between quality and quantity."

According to Dunnett, the forum discussions "afforded everyone the opportunity to learn about issues affecting student mobility in other countries and to gain a comparative perspective on the flow of students worldwide and factors affecting the globalization of higher education."

"It was fitting that we had this international meeting in connection with President Simpson's investiture since it brought together many old friends of UB and drew attention to the strength of UB's ties to universities around the world," he said.