Published: 16.11.11

Global campus as a model for top universities

International competition for the most talented students, researchers and specialist staff is increasing. Many countries have developed strategies for attracting academic talents, or preventing their emigration. The science and technology counsellors to the Swiss federal government have compared the strategies of 20 countries and presented them at ETH Zurich.

Florian Meyer
The Summer Academy 2011 run by ETH Sustainability brought together students from 18 countries: it is a model example of a “global campus”. (Picture: Philippe Neidhart / ETH Zurich)
The Summer Academy 2011 run by ETH Sustainability brought together students from 18 countries: it is a model example of a “global campus”. (Picture: Philippe Neidhart / ETH Zurich) (large view)

Just over a year ago, the Swiss Federal Council established its international strategy for education, research and innovation (ERI). The objective of this strategy is to establish Switzerland over the long term as a globally preferred location for science and innovation, which is able to attract the best students, researchers and specialist staff from around the world.

Switzerland is not alone in this aim. Many countries with a strong track record in research, including China, Japan, South Korea, Russia and Germany, but also Scandinavia and the EU, have recognised that they must take action if they wish to position themselves as an attractive option on the global market for academic talents, and prevent a drain in talented students and researchers.

On the other hand, the worldwide mobility of students has increased by 77 percent, according to education statistics from the OECD.

Four strategies of internationalisation

Against this background, the State Secretariat for Education and Research (SER) has commissioned its science and technology counsellors (STC) to review the internationalisation strategies of 20 countries and the EU, and to summarise them in a discussion paper.

“Switzerland is in international competition with other locations for education, research and innovation. That is why looking at the strategies employed by other countries provides a valuable basis for discussion in Switzerland”, said Lutz-Peter Berg, who presented the “Science and Technology Counsellors’ Global Statement 2011” on Tuesday, 15 November 2011, as part of the annual conference of science and technology counsellors which was held at ETH Zurich.

As Lutz-Peter Berg, who is himself an STC in London, with responsibility for Great Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia, explained, across the world one can distinguish four motivations or strategies for winning talents.

University education as a commercial commodity

The strategy of viewing university education as a commercial commodity has been pursued by English-speaking countries for decades. Accordingly, countries such as the US, Great Britain, Australia and Canada have made study programmes for foreign students into an attractive business. The tuition fees for foreign students here are three or four times those for domestic students. They create an additional source of income for the universities and for the economy of these countries, particularly since these countries also “export” their study programmes and offer them abroad.

Such strategies become risky when the universities, as has been observed to some extent in Australia and Canada, place quantity before quality, or where the strategies for winning international students do not fit with immigration policy.

“Brain gain” and “brain return”

Another strategy is where countries court foreign talents because they need specialists for their science and industry. Germany, Japan, South Korea, Russia, UK, Canada, Sweden and Denmark – but also Switzerland – are countries which invest in winning talents in a targeted manner.

“The strategies of these countries are based more on cooperation and exchange, and less on professionally managed mass recruitment, as in the profit model adopted by English-speaking countries”, said Lutz-Peter Berg. These strategies often combine study selection measures with the possibility that foreign students can subsequently find employment in the labour market more easily.

Another route is taken, of necessity, by emerging countries such as India: they concentrate their efforts on bringing back talents who have emigrated, by means of prestigious positions, good salaries and good research resources. Countries such as Brazil, Russia, China or South Africa have already been so successful here that at the same time they are also able to acquire talents from other countries, or to offer individual programmes from their university education in other countries too.

Global Campus as the university of the 21st century

A further strategy for winning talents which is increasingly becoming established above all in Germany, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Sweden and Denmark is that of the “global campus”. This model takes as its motto “quality before quantity”. Preferred methods here are the active recruitment of talents, performance-related grants, joint degrees, special supervision, as well as international centres and cooperation: “Courses delivered in English at German or Swedish universities are not just ‘bait’ for foreigners, but part of a globally oriented course of study for domestic students”, said Lutz-Peter Berg.

“For ETH Zurich, the two strategies of ‘brain gain’ and ‘global campus’ are relevant. They are reflected in the decision to give the Master’s programmes at ETH Zurich an international orientation”, said Anders Hagström, from ETH Zurich’s Office for International Institutional Affairs. He adds: “With 35 percent of Master’s students being international, we done well in achieving our objective. But because the competition for talent is increasing worldwide, ETH Zurich must continue its efforts in order to maintain quality at the Master’s level.”

Big differences in strategy implementation

The countries that were looked at differ considerably in the implementation of their strategies. Similarly, there is little common ground as regards the level of fees for foreign students. Certainly only Denmark and Sweden are aware of a strategy for attracting the best talents with fees that are considerably higher than those for domestic students. International exchange programmes between universities are increasing in importance.

Around two thirds of international students choose a university in the US, Great Britain, Australia, Canada, Germany and France. In addition to the classic centres of student mobility, however, regional nodes are forming in Africa and Asia, as for example South Africa and Russia have taken appropriate initiatives.

Swiss foreign policy on education

The Swiss federal government has (as at 2011) a network of 23 science and technology counsellors in 19 countries around the globe. They follow developments in science, technology, innovation and university policy in the host region, and support bilateral relations at the level of policy, administration, and educational and research institutions.

Internationalisation in the 2012-2016 strategy of ETH Zurich

By educating motivated and talented young people, ETH Zurich makes an important contribution to the education of the technological and scientific elite in society, academia and the economy in Switzerland.
In its strategy 2012-2016, ETH Zurich is backing an integral approach, in which each level of education should demonstrate a level of internationalism that is appropriate to the educational goal. Thus at the Master’s level, ETH Zurich creates for its students an international, performance-enhancing environment which provides the student with the ideal preparation for his or her future working environment, or for a doctorate either at home or abroad. Doctoral theses at ETH Zurich meet the highest international standards, and make a significant contribution to the international reputation of ETH Zurich.

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