The ‘Supply Side’ of Study Abroad [Inside Higher Ed]

By Andy Guess, Inside Higher Ed

Much of the research on study-abroad programs has looked at the growing number of American students who spend a summer or semester overseas, or the number of foreign students who come to the United States. A new survey, released today, looks beyond the “demand” side of the equation — the American colleges pushing for an increased focus on international education — to the “supply” of available programs and finds that responding institutions in Europe and elsewhere overwhelmingly seek to attract American students, along with those from other major “sending” countries.

The catch, however, is that while most American study-abroad programs range from three-week sessions to a summer or semester, most of the receiving institutions said they had the most room for growth in longer-term and degree programs. “These findings suggest a potential supply-demand conflict: while the majority of overseas institutions indicate that they offer mid-term and long-term programs for non-degree students, most U.S. students tend to study abroad for shorter duration,” says the report.

Of the colleges outside the United States surveyed, 89 percent said they had long-term programs for study-abroad students not seeking a degree — lasting for a full term or a year — while only 38 percent had programs lasting 2 months or less. According to the IIE, 53 percent of American students take “short-term study abroad sojourns,” and only 6 percent spend an academic year or more in such programs.

“I think the most dramatic finding is how much other countries want our students to come, but not for short trips,” said Allan E. Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education, which released the white paper today. “If that finding continues to persist across programs, disciplines, regions, it is a challenge for us to think of broader and more deeper international exposure for our students.”

The report, “Exploring Host Country Capacity for Increasing U.S. Study Abroad”, is the second in IIE’s Meeting America’s Global Education Challenge initiative, which looks at ways to manage the continued growth in study abroad in higher education. The findings are based on an online survey administered in the last four months of 2007 to 533 responding institutions. Of those who participated, 64 percent were in Europe, while the bulk of the remaining respondents were in Australia, New Zealand or Canada. Only 11 percent of participating institutions were in Asia.

“Well, it’s kind of a wake-up call that we’ve got to study country by country … in much more depth,” Goodman said in noting that the response from colleges in China and India, especially, was lower than expected. “It may not be on their radar screens the way we hope it might be on their radar screens,” he speculated. IIE is already planning a follow-up study that will focus on that region along with several others that are underrepresented in the current report.

The premise of the report is that if growth continues in study-abroad initiatives — currently over 223,000 American students venture overseas for at least part of their undergraduate careers, a figure that’s grown 8 to 10 percent a year for the past five years — educators should understand more about the kinds of programs that will absorb the students. Almost all the institutions surveyed expressed an interest in attracting more American students for a variety of reasons, from seeking to become more competitive internationally to expanding global research partnerships to the added revenue from students paying full tuition.

“For many overseas institutions, increasing international enrollments is a central aspect of an overall internationalization mission,” the report says. “This attempt to increase enrollments is often focused on specific sending countries, with the U.S. appearing as the top choice, followed by China, India, Canada, and Russia.”

More than 60 percent of respondents said they market directly to American students. Such colleges also see benefits in establishing joint degree programs with U.S. institutions, and fully 81 percent cited exchange agreements as a top area of growth for international education. “The presence of U.S. students is seen as a catalyst for forming reciprocal and beneficial partnerships with U.S. higher education institutions, and for raising the international profile of the host institution,” according to the report.

And what would overseas institutions like the United States to do to support their mission of internationalization? According to respondents, the answer is more “stature and visibility” in the U.S., combined with more funds to support sending American students abroad.

The ultimate goal, says the report: “When asked why they wanted to attract more U.S. students, 81 percent of responding institutions reported that exchange of knowledge, culture, and language through personal interaction between U.S. and domestic students was the most important reason…. Similarly, but to a lesser extent, 54 percent see their institution as serving a primary role in exposing U.S. students to a broader world view and another culture.”

See also “Foreign Universities Would Welcome More American Study-Abroad Students” from The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required)