Students and international mobility: getting organised for the challenges ahead

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5.1 million students worldwide study abroad (+28 % in five years), with Europe remaining the preferred destination. A factor of influence and competitiveness, this international student mobility enables 245,000 foreign students to study in France. And more than 90,000 French students go abroad. Student mobility, whether incoming or outgoing, involves many challenges: in addition to improving the performance and employability of the students concerned, it promotes academic excellence for high-level research, strengthens economic ties and develops cultural and personal exchanges. Yet France will welcome fewer exchange students under the Erasmus+ programme in 2016 than in 2011 (-4%), while all other European countries are making progress. At the same time, more and more French students are going to study abroad, mainly in French-speaking or border countries, but are subject to numerous disparities in regional financial aid. According to the analysis of Campus France, "it is now urgent to react to be more attractive to international students".
This is a trend on which the Court of Auditors has drawn up and published a detailed survey of the various forms of student mobility (incoming, outgoing, delocalised, with or without qualifications), based on information which is often new. It makes eleven recommendations to meet new challenges.

The face of higher education in the world has changed profoundly since the early 2000s due to the sharp increase in the number of students, with a doubling in emerging countries in particular. At the same time, the various higher education systems have adapted to an increasing internationalisation of their student populations. The international mobility of students has thus progressed strongly throughout the world and this increase should continue and even increase. This evolution is accompanied by a redistribution of geographical mobility flows, with the stated desire of several countries to become host countries. There is now a real international "market" for students, which has become essential for the reputation of institutions and the recognition of the quality of their training.

In 2017-2018, 245,000 foreign students will have completed a degree mobility in France (lasting more than a year), making our country 4th in the world. More than 90,000 French students have completed outgoing degree mobility (6th in the world). In addition, nearly 44,000 French students will benefit from Erasmus + in 2016 (mobility without a degree, lasting less than one year).

A factor of influence and competitiveness, international student mobility involves four ministries and two operators (Erasmus + and Campus France), for a total estimated expenditure of €2.5 billion. The public authorities have set a target of 500,000 foreign students by 2027 and 400,000 French students in mobility in Europe by 2024. In order to meet such a challenge under acceptable financial and qualitative conditions, several major reforms deserve to be carried out.

The Court of Auditors makes 11 recommendations to make the system of international student mobility better known, better promoted, better managed and better piloted, ultimately...more efficient.

Attractive incoming mobility but insufficiently focused on student success and institutional performance

Between 2012 and 2016, international student mobility to France grew less than that to other major host countries.

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It is important that the institutions themselves ensure the quality of their international recruitment, in order to better meet the needs and skills of their students as well as the coherence of their training offer. The proportion of end-of-cycle students in relation to that of undergraduate students should be increased, given the particular contribution of international doctoral students to French research. Greater attention should be paid to the quality and clarity of the training offered internationally. Information on the type of training offered and its characteristics could be improved. The "filling" effects observed in certain institutions should be avoided.

With regard to tuition fees for non-EU students, it would be logical that greater flexibility should be given to institutions in order to take account of their respective comparative advantages on the global academic scene.

Outgoing mobility to be better managed and promoted

Institutions have a major role to play in developing outgoing mobility, which is important for students' success and employability, yet they make little and poor use of the tools at their disposal.

In addition, Erasmus + should take better account of the existence of student populations that are economically and culturally distant from international mobility. The lack of statistical monitoring of mobility at national level is detrimental as it does not make it possible to remedy sociological, territorial or inter-institutional inequalities in the use of mobility. Finally, the scholarship system is insufficiently known and adapted.

The uncertain role of offshore locations and training courses

Many higher education institutions have developed internationalization strategies, by relocating campuses or training courses, in particular to strengthen their place on the academic scene. These relocations and relocations follow various modalities (autonomous strategy, foreign solicitations or bilateral projects) and are often subject to poor control, particularly in terms of budget and the monitoring of agreements. They should be integrated into a global vision of international student mobility, in particular to better regulate flows and improve the efficiency of this policy.

Summary of the Court of Auditors' thematic public report

Read the full report

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