Show Less
Open access

Joint Modules and Internationalisation in Higher Education

Reflections on the Joint Module «Comparative Studies in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning»


Edited By Regina Egetenmeyer, Paula Guimaraes and Balázs Németh

This volume places the development of the Joint Module «Comparative Studies in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning» (COMPALL) in the context of international development in higher education and adult education. Based on this framework, the authors discuss the development of the joint module in terms of its institutional and didactical structure as well as participants’ motivation and diversity. The book is divided into three parts: (1) Internationalisation in Higher Education, (2) Internationalisation of Higher Education: The Case of Adult Education, and (3) Internationalisation of Higher Education: The Example of COMPALL.

Show Summary Details
Open access

Internationalisation and cross-border mobility in higher education (N.V. Varghese)

N.V. Varghese

Internationalisation and Cross-­Border Mobility in Higher Education

Abstract: The modes of trade in cross-­border education under the GATS framework are the mobility of programmes, students, institutions, and teachers. Although student mobility traditionally has been the most common form of cross-­border higher education, institutional and programme mobility have become important modes of trade in this century. The emergence of education hubs and the fast expansion of MOOCs is a reflection of the changing landscape of cross-­border higher education.


Cross-­border education refers to the mobility of students, institutions, teachers, and programmes across countries. Traditionally, cross-­border higher education was associated more with study abroad programmes for students. Although student mobility continues to be an important form, the scope and meaning of cross-­border education became wider with other forms of cross-­border mobility becoming evident. For example, institutional mobility in the form of branch campuses and education hubs is a phenomenon of this century, and programme mobility in the form of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) emerged in this decade. These two forms of cross-­border mobility – institutional and programme mobility – occupy an important place in the current discourses on internationalisation and cross-­border mobility in higher education. The changing forms and the widening scope of cross-­border education are indications of an expanding role of globalisation in higher education. With the emergence of knowledge economies, the premium attached to knowledge production increased, and institutions producing knowledge became dear to investors. ‘International knowledge has become a powerful determinant in the globalised competition for talented students, resources, and reputation (Weiler, 2001). The globalisation of higher education, especially under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) framework, legitimised the market-­mediated cross-­border activities in higher education. Cross-­border education has become a multi-­million-­dollar enterprise drawing profits in billions. The competition among providers to invest in cross-­border institutions, programmes, and the recruitment of foreign students to generate income and maximise profit has become a common phenomenon among the global players in education. This paper attempts to analyse the cross-­←21 | 22→border flows in higher education in the context of the internationalisation and globalisation of higher education. The next section draws a distinction between internationalisation and globalisation of higher education, followed by a discussion on the modes of trade under GATS in section 3. Sections 4, 5, and 6 discuss different forms of cross-­border flow, namely, student mobility, institutional mobility, and programme mobility in higher education. The final section makes some concluding observations.

Internationalisation and globalisation of higher education

Internationalisation can be seen in terms of different phases based on its major motivations and orientations. In the beginning, universities were global institutions attracting international faculty and students. They became national entities in the post-­World-­War period, when new nation states were born. With the onset of the globalisation processes, internationalisation became a strategy to mobilise additional resources for higher education institutions. It can be argued that although academic interest was a major motivation for internationalisation in the beginning, diplomatic and financial interests became more important in subsequent phases.

Internationalisation at home and abroad

Internationalisation implies integrating international, intercultural, and global dimensions into the scope and purpose of higher education (Knight, 2004). Internationalisation brings about changes in national higher education institutions by orienting them to global contexts and by developing relevant skills and competencies demanded in the global market. Such reorientation is expected to make higher education more relevant, improve the quality of teaching and learning, enhance learning outcomes, and develop global citizens.

Internationalisation has now become a stated mission in the strategic development plans of many universities. For many higher education institutions, it is part of their efforts to improve quality, to enhance prestige and global competitiveness, and to generate revenue. The development of global citizenship has become an important objective of internationalisation in the context of conflicts and terrorism becoming major social concerns. Global citizenship in the present context implies a deeper understanding of emerging international inter-­connections, a higher level of social responsibility, comparable skills and global competencies, and increased civic engagement. These objectives of internationalisation cannot be achieved if the effort is centred around the small share of students crossing←22 | 23→ borders. In fact, the scope of internationalisation should be extended to all students, including those who do not go abroad for studies.

The internationalisation of higher education can take place both at home and abroad. Internationalisation at home is a process whereby students acquire an international understanding and outlook through the courses offered. This does not involve moving institutions, persons, and courses across borders. Although 98 per cent of students can experience internationalisation at home, this aspect is less emphasised in policy discussions. Internationalisation at home is an approach in which the curriculum and learning outcomes have an international outlook without cross-­border mobility of students and institutions. Internationalisation abroad implies cross-­border movement of persons, study programmes, and institutions (Knight, 2006). The emphasis in discussions is more on internationalisation abroad, although it accounts for only 2 per cent of the global enrolment in higher education, since it involves the cross-­border flow of students.

Phases of internationalisation

The medieval period represents the first phase in the internationalisation of universities and higher education. Universities by definition were conceived as international institutions attracting international faculty and students. The use of Latin as the common language of academic discourse during this period helped the inflow of students and faculty to universities such as Sorbonne (Altbach, 1998). During this phase, the major motivation for internationalisation seemed to be academic interests and the pursuit of knowledge.

The post-­World-­War-­II period represents the second phase in the internationalisation of higher education. The emergence of nation states in the post-­war period re-­oriented higher education institutions towards national priorities and national development. Public funding and support in the form of scholarships were forthcoming during this period. This period also saw the moving away from international languages to national languages as the medium of instruction in many countries. Internationalisation was motivated more by diplomatic engagement with developing countries (Lane, 2015), especially with former colonies that became independent during the post-­war period, and as a means for building relationships with developing countries.

The governments in the developed countries offered fellowships and financial support through cooperation projects and academic exchange programmes. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Fulbright programme, Colombo Plan, British Council and Commonwealth scholarship programme, and the German Academic Exchange Service, commonly known←23 | 24→ as DAAD, are examples of national efforts to promote cross-­border education (Altbach & Knight, 2006). The next phase in the internationalisation of higher education is in the context of economic globalisation. During this period, internationalisation was motivated by commercial interests and profit-­making considerations. Cross-­border higher education became a market-­mediated process to produce the skills to suit the requirements of a global labour market and to generate income and profit. Recent estimates indicate that the United States earns $27 billion from cross-­border education, the United Kingdom earns around $ 26 billion, Australia $12 billion, and Canada $6 billion (Lane et. al., 2015). The perceived role of universities changed from promoting national development to producing graduates for the global market. Universities became autonomous, less reliant on state funding, and market-­oriented in their operations. Economic rationality and commercial interests act as major incentives to promote cross-­border education in the context of globalisation (Varghese, 2013). Producing for the global market implies focusing on producing standardised skills, revising education content to suit global market requirements, improving interpersonal interaction skills in multi-­cultural contexts, and promoting a world language as the medium of instruction.

In fact, many countries reformed curricular contents, recruited foreign faculty members, and introduced courses offered in English, which is increasingly becoming the language of globalisation, ‘the premier language of business and professions and the only global language of science, research and academic publication (OECD, 2008, p. 20). English has become the ‘Latin of the 21st century – proficiency in English empowers, whereas a lack of proficiency ‘seriously disenfranchises (Mathews, 2013) people in the globalised world.

Modes of trade in cross-­border education

Higher education has become a market-­driven activity and a commodity to be traded across borders. The profitability of the sector attracts millions of students, a multiplicity of providers, and billions of dollars. In fact, higher education institutions compete in terms of attracting students, establishing branch campuses, and expanding cross-­border study programmes. Cross-­border mobility in higher education has become an item traded within the framework of GATS.

Trade in education under the GATS framework takes place in four modes (Knight, 2002).

a) Cross-­border supply of services. Under this mode of trade, the programmes cross borders while the consumers remain inside the country. E-­learning-­←24 | 25→based distance education programmes are good examples of this type of cross-­border education.

b) Technological developments have widened the scope for establishing online universities and massive open online courses (MOOCs).

c) Consumption abroad: The consumers (students) cross the border and travel to other countries for pursuing higher studies. This is the most visible traditional form of cross-­border education.

d) Commercial presence of providers in another country: Branch campuses, twinning and franchising arrangements between universities from the developed and the developing world belong to this category. This is a new form of cross-­border education.

e) The presence of persons in another country: The most visible form of this mode of cross-­border education is the mobility of teachers and professors from one country to another as an employee of a foreign university, as part of an academic partnership, or to teach at branch campuses.

The most common form of cross-­border education takes place through student mobility, institutional mobility, and programme mobility. Cross-­border education has traditionally implied student mobility and teacher mobility. The other two forms of mobility are of recent origins in this century.

Internationalisation: Cross-­border student mobility

The most visible and most discussed form of cross-­border mobility in higher education is student mobility. The number of students crossing borders has more than doubled, from 1.9 million in 2000 to 4.6 million in 2015 (UIS, 2016). The most familiar pattern of cross-­border student flow is from developing to developed countries. North America and Western Europe continue to be favourite destinations for most cross-­border students.

The relative share of cross-­border students hosted in North America and Western Europe declined over the years from around two-­thirds in 2000 to around three-­fifths in 2010. In 2000, nearly 90 per cent of students from North America and Europe crossed borders to study in another country of the same region; 80 per cent of students from Latin America travelled to North America and Western Europe for their studies (Varghese, 2008). By 2010, these percentages declined to 86.4 per cent and 75 per cent, respectively. East Asia and the Pacific have become a more attractive place for student mobility in 2015 than in 2000. This region hosted more than one-­fifth of the global mobile student population in 2015. This region←25 | 26→ has increased its share primarily due to the increased student flow to Australia, China, Japan, and South Korea.

A good share of cross-­border students are hosted by limited number of countries. A group of nine countries account for nearly 60 per cent of international students (Table 1). Among these countries, the United States continues to host the largest share of international students. However, its share declined from 25 per cent in 2000 to 19.7 per cent in 2015. The US is followed by the UK, Australia, France, and Germany. There has been a decline in the relative share of foreign students in many of the North American and Western European countries.

The flow of students from each region shows some interesting features (UIS, 2012). The most favourite destination for Arab students is France (29%); for Central and Eastern Europe, it is Germany (16%); for Central Asia, it is the Russian Federation (46%); for East Asia and the Pacific, it is the US (28%); for Latin America and the Caribbean, it is the US (33%); for North America and Western Europe, it is the UK (23%), for South and West Asia, it is the US (38%), and for Sub-­Saharan Africa, it is France (19%).

The share of foreign students in the total domestic higher education enrolment is less than 4 per cent in the US, compared to more than 15 per cent in countries such as the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. Hosting a larger share of international students has implications for the diversification of study programmes and curricula to suit the needs of international students. Efforts have been made in this respect, as evident in the results of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) in these countries. The NSSE survey contains the records of students who participated in defined learning activities and the amount of teacher and institutional support they received in doing so.

Whereas nine countries (Table 1) together accounted for 73 per cent of foreign students hosted worldwide in 2000, their share declined to 59.6 per cent in 2015. This reflects the fact that a larger number of countries are now attracting international students. In fact, many countries have adopted internationalisation strategies to attract more students. For example, the number of international students hosted by China increased from 36,000 in 2006 to nearly 123,000 in 2015, accounting for nearly 2.9 per cent of the total international student population. The biggest increase was experienced by the Republic of Korea, from nearly 8,000 in 2004 to 55,000 in 2015 – an increase of nearly seven times. Malaysia remains an important country, although there has been a decline in the number of students hosted in the country, from 65,000 in 2010 to 60,000 in 2015. This may be partly due to difficulties in attracting larger numbers of students to the branch campuses.←26 | 27→

Table 1: Distribution of foreign students by host countries, in percent


Source: UIS, various years

The largest sending countries in 2015 were China (800,000), India (254,000), and the Republic of Korea (108,000). These three countries together accounted for one-­fourth of the international student population in 2015. Of these countries, 22.5 per cent of Chinese students, more than 50 per cent of Indian students, and 56.6 per cent of Korean students were hosted by the US in 2010. What is important to note here is that China has made the highest increase in sending students abroad for studies – an increase from 6.8 per cent in 1995 to 17.4 per cent in 2015 (Table 2). India, too, has increased its share of international students from 2.3 per cent to 5.5 per cent. The share of cross-­border Chinese students nearly tripled, whereas the share of cross-­border Indian students nearly doubled.

Table 2: Share of international students by country of origin, in per cent


←27 | 28→


Source: UIS, various years

A degree from a university of repute from the developed world is valued very highly by students and is considered a premium in the labour market. These graduates have better access to high paying jobs and enjoy social prestige attached to the degree and the jobs that these degrees fetch. Therefore, investing in a foreign degree is rewarding, and households do invest in degrees from foreign universities.

The choice of a country of study seems to be influenced by several factors. Some of the common factors include the academic reputation of the university, the language of instruction, the cost of education, and the visa rules. A large share of international students opt for countries such as the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia. In fact, these four countries accounted for more than 50 per cent of international students in 2000 and for more than 40 per cent in 2015 (Table 1). Another point of attraction is that all four countries use English as the language of instruction, although Canada offers courses in both English and French. As discussed earlier, higher education in English offers better opportunities for higher-­paying jobs in a globalised labour market.

The cost of education is another important factor when choosing a country for higher studies. The emergence of Australia as an important player in the first decade of the present century and New Zealand in the latter half of the previous decade are good examples because of the low cost of education and relaxed visa regimes. In fact, a good share of cross-­border students from China shifted their destination from the US to Australia. Indian students followed a similar pattern, although the US continues to be the first choice for Indian students.

Visa rules are a major factor influencing cross-­border students choice of study destination. What matters in this decision is not only the visa regulations for the study period but also the immigration policies in the post-­study period, that is, the opportunities to stay and look for employment. There is a positive association between flexible visa rules, easy availability of employment opportunities, and choice of country for higher studies. In the recent past, Germany implemented the European Union (EU) blue card system, which permits foreign students who←28 | 29→ graduated from German universities to work and take residence in Germany. When the visa rules became very strict and were restricted mostly to visa for the study period only, the cross-­border student flow to Australia and UK declined. However, Australia revised the visa rules to make them more flexible for employing foreign students graduating from Australian universities. There is a sharp decline in the number of Indian students seeking admissions in the UK after the country restricted the visa for the study period only. One of the reasons for New Zealand emerging as a favourable destination for cross-­border students is its low cost of education and flexible post-­study visa rules.

Several countries have relaxed visa rules also to meet shortages of highly skilled workers in the domestic labour market. Many of them find foreign students graduating from their universities to provide a more reliable regular supply of highly skilled personnel in the future. One of the earlier estimates indicated that nearly 90 per cent of Chinese and Indian doctoral students would like to stay in the US after their studies (Kapur & McHale, 2005). This situation has changed with accelerated economic growth in India and China at a time when many of the mature economies were in a state of crisis. The fact remains that the cross-­border student flow is seen as providing a reliable regular supply of highly skilled from the developing to the developed countries (Tremblay, 2002).

Internationalisation: Institutional mobility and education hubs

Institutional mobility emerged as a new phenomenon in the globalisation of higher education in the 2000s. Institutional mobility takes place through branch campuses and through franchising or twinning arrangements. Franchising denotes the delivery of courses of a foreign university inside the country by an authorised domestic institution, whereas twinning refers to joint ownership and delivery by institutions in the home and host countries A branch campus is an ‘off-­shore operation of a higher education institution operated on its own or through a joint-­venture which, upon successful completion of the study programme, award students a degree from the foreign institution (Knight, 2006). The branch campuses award foreign degrees through face-­to-­face instruction-­based teaching-­learning process (ACE, 2009; Cao, 2011).

International branch campuses are becoming a new form of providing cross-­border education. They act as education hubs attracting students from within the country and abroad. Countries and cities such as Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha, Qatar, Mauritius, and the like are good examples of the successful operation of education hubs.

Malaysia is developing an international education hub targeting the undergraduate education market. Abu Dhabi has campuses of the Sorbonne (France)←29 | 30→ and New York University (US). Dubai Knowledge Village (DKV), established in 2003, hosts several international universities from Australia, India, Pakistan, Iran, Russia, Belgium, the UK, Ireland, and Canada. Dubai also has an education city called Dubai International Academic City (DIAC). The DIAC is the worlds largest free zone dedicated to higher education and has a large number of international branch campuses (IBCs) enrolling more than 20,000 students.

Education City in Doha has six branch campuses by international institutions. Singapores Global Schoolhouse (GS) initiative, launched in 2002, houses over 16 leading foreign tertiary institutions. The aim of the Global Schoolhouse is to make the country a global talent hub. It is estimated that the GS has already attracted over 86,000 international students. Hong Kong is emerging as a regional education hub. Bhutan is planning to build a US$1-billion education city to encourage prestigious universities and colleges worldwide to establish affiliated institutions in the country. Mauritius has already developed collaborations with prestigious foreign universities in the US, UK, France, India, South Africa, and others to establish a ‘knowledge hub.

According to the CBERT database (CBERT, 2016) there are a total of 249 international branch campuses in operation. In 2016, a group of five countries accounted for more than 70 per cent of international branch campuses (Table 3). The largest exporters of branch campuses are the US (78), UK (39), Russia (21), France (28), and Australia (15). The largest importers of branch campus are China (32), United Arab Emirates (31), Singapore (12), Malaysia (12), and Qatar (11). Together, these countries host 98 international branch campuses, or 39 per cent of total branch campuses worldwide. The international branch campuses initially established in small countries and Gulf countries attracted a large share of students. This trend is changing now with China emerging as the country hosting the largest number of international branch campuses in 2016.

Table 3: Distribution of international branch campuses by country in 2016


Source: CBERT (2016); Note: Figures in parentheses are percentages of the total←30 | 31→

Initially, the branch campuses were exported by the developed countries. This trend is changing. India is taking the lead in exporting international branch campuses, although India does not permit international branch campuses to operate in India. Many private universities from India are establishing branch campuses in other countries. Amity has branch campuses in the US, UK, China, Singapore, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Romania and plans to have branch campuses in 50 countries by 2025. The Manipal group has campuses in Malaysia (2), Dubai, Antigua, and Nepal. The JSS Academy of Technical Education has established an independent institution in Mauritius. DY Patil Post-­Graduate School of Medicine established a partnership with the University of Technology in Mauritius (UTM) in 2009. Four Indian private institutions are represented in the Dubai International Academic City. China also plans to export international branch campuses. For example, the Xiamen University of China plans to establish a branch campus in Malaysia; Soochow University of China wants to open one in Vietnam (Lane & Kisner, 2013).

The ownership patterns of international branch campuses vary. Some are wholly owned by the parent institution; others are run in a partnership mode whereby the national government subsidises the cost and acts as a co-­owner; ownership of international branch campuses by a private partner is also common. A survey (ACE, 2009) found that a majority of branch campuses had a local partner in the host country. Most of the local partners in Asia and Europe are colleges and universities, whereas those in the Middle East are businesses, local governments, and non-­profit organisations. Another survey (Lane & Kisner, 2013) found that there were broadly five types of branch campus ownership patterns; i) fully owned by the home campus; ii) rented from a private party; iii) owned by the local government; iv) owned by a private partner; and v) owned by an educational partner.

Some branch campuses receive financial or material support from their host countries except in Europe. The support very often comes in the form of facilities, such as land leases at a discount or rent-­free facilities. Some of the branches in the Middle East received financial support from the government. Students attending three of the seven branch campuses in the Middle East were eligible to receive financial aid from the local government.

The ACE survey (ACE, 2009) showed that business programmes continue to dominate in Asia and Europe. IT courses occupy the second position, followed by international courses common in Europe and computer courses in the Middle East. The field of international relations was common in Europe but not in other regions. Almost half of all degree programmes in the Middle East were offered in the STEM1 fields.←31 | 32→

A recent survey among students at branch campuses in the UAE found that students prefer studying at a branch campus in the UAE over studying at Western universities because of the financial benefits (less expensive), a ‘hassle-­free life, personal safety, religion, familiarity, comfort with the local culture and lifestyle, and improved prospects in the local/regional labour market after graduation (Wilkins & Balakrishnan, 2012).

There are people who caution about education hubs and branch campuses, as they can lead to fierce competition, and the impact of foreign competition on domestic institutions may not be favourable to the latter. Furthermore, some believe that higher education hubs can be dangerous to local institutions since money goes to the foreign universities, and their presence can be used as an argument by the government to justify investing less in higher education. And in response to this increasing trade, there are likely to be complaints about the impact of foreign competition on domestic institutions (Lester, 2013).

The other view is that education hubs stop the outflow of students and money from developing countries. For example, India spent around US$4 billion on foreign exchange for Indian students studying abroad. It can be argued that the country could have save around US$4 billion in foreign exchange had the students stayed in India and received a foreign education (Tilak, 2008) through education hubs.

Internationalisation: Cross-­border programme mobility

Correspondence courses offered by the brick-­and-­mortar system have long existed as a form of distance education programme. Open universities, which focus only on distance education, emerged in the 1960s. They became popular with the Open University in UK, which was followed by similar institutions in many countries, including the Open University in Thailand, the University of South Africa (UNISA) in South Africa, Indira Gandhi National Open University in India, Wawasan University in Malaysia, the African Virtual University, and many others. Beginning around the turn of the century, the next stage in the development of distance education was online courses and fully accredited online universities. The Open Educational Resources (OER) facilitated the provision of digitised materials free of cost to all. The 2002 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Open Course Ware project and the 2006 OpenLearn programme at the Open University in the UK extended free online access to their courses and popularised OER. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) emerged as the major form of learning without boundaries and as an alternative to the brick-­and-­mortar system of higher education. MOOCs are changing the landscape←32 | 33→ of global higher education provision (Yuan et al., 2008) and even lead some to predict that MOOCs mark the ‘end of university as we know it (Harden, 2013).

The growth in MOOC enrolments was exponential. Within a year of their launch, 3.1 million users were enrolled in MOOCs. MOOC enrolments in doubled each year in 2014, 2015, and 2016 to reach 58 million (Table 4). Coursera, with an enrolment of 23 million, accounting for nearly 40 per cent of total enrolment, led the league in 2016, followed by edX. France Uni Numerique accounts for more than 16 per cent of total enrolment (Table 4).

Table 4: Enrolment in MOOCs 2016

MOOCs Platforms

Enrolment (in million)

Share of Enrolment

(in per cent)















France Uni.Numerique



Total in millions


Source: ICEF Monitor, January 2016

It may be interesting to see who benefits from MOOCs. It seems that MOOCs have tremendous potential to change the higher education scene, not only by enrolling large numbers but also by using MOOCs to improve teaching and learning and by encouraging other institutions to use these courses to reinforce their courses to think creatively and innovatively and to explore new pedagogical practices, business models, and flexible learning paths in their provision (Yuan & Powell, 2013). In fact, many universities are compelled to rethink how to make their curriculum delivery models and courses truly flexible and accessible (Carr, 2012). The blending of virtual classrooms with real classrooms will be a process of reinventing education and changing the landscape of higher education globalisation.

Early on, MOOCs were seen as an American phenomenon, because the provider platforms and most users of these platforms were based in the US. Other countries soon joined to develop MOOCs platforms. FutureLearn (UK), iVersity (Germany), UniMOOC (Spain), Open2Study (Australia), and Université Numé←33 | 34→rique (France) are initiatives to explore possibilities for international visibility and attractiveness (Gaebel, 2014).

MOOCs are penetrating higher education markets in the developing world. Many developing countries in South and Southeast Asia, as well as in Latin America and Southern Africa, have already made major investments in distance and online education. The technological infrastructures in the urban centres of the developing countries are more comparable to those available in the developed world. This is one of the factors fueling the spread of MOOCs in the urban areas of developing countries.

Developing countries such as Brazil (Veduca), China (XuetangX and Ewant), and Rwanda (Kepler from Generation Rwanda) are examples of countries relying on higher education provisions through MOOC platforms. India launched an Indian MOOC platform called SWAYAM (Study Webs of Active-­learning for Young Aspiring Minds). It is an online platform developed by the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) and built by Microsoft. Indian MOOCs offer courses in English and in several Indian languages. They are expected to offer 2,000 courses for 30 million students by 2020. As of July 2017, SWAYAM offers 323 courses in India.

Internet connectivity is improving in the developing countries. However, regular access to reliable broadband internet connectivity is not easily available at affordable prices in many developing countries (Trucano, 2013), and it will remain a constraint for the fast expansion of MOOCs in many countries. Similarly, the language of communication in many of the MOOCs is another constraint. The dominant language of communication in MOOCs is English. Many students in the developing world do not have the proficiency level expected to pursue and complete MOOCs. Although efforts are made by countries such as India, China, and countries in the Arab world to offer MOOCs in local languages, access to MOOCs will be better for those who can communicate in English.

The limited number of studies and surveys available indicate that MOOCs at present serve the relatively well-­to-­do, who already possess a university degree (Gebel, 2014). Many of them are young professionals who are already employed. Many of them see MOOCs as an opportunity to gain additional knowledge and skills for their professional advancement, since online courses offer opportunities to study at the worlds top universities and be taught by the best teachers.

Another issue related to offering MOOCs is the mechanisms in place for the proper evaluation and assessment of student performance. This is especially relevant if the course is to be accredited by existing accrediting agencies. Students are also keen to get a certification after completion of the courses. A promise of←34 | 35→ certification may also improve completion rates of courses offered on MOOC platforms.

The expansion of MOOCs is very fast. Will they replace the brick-­and-­mortar system of higher education? Professors such as Sebastian Thrun, the founder of Udacity, predict that MOOCs will replace existing universities, and that by 2060, there will only be 10 universities in the world. Some think that MOOCs bring near-­universal access to the highest-­quality teaching and scholarship at a minimal cost. Consequently, ‘we may lose the gothic arches, the bespectacled lecturers, dusty books lining the walls of labyrinthine libraries-­wonderful images from higher educations past’’ (Harden, 2013, p. 3).

It seems many countries are relying on MOOCs to supplement existing classrooms and teaching-­learning processes. It is more realistic to argue that MOOCs are seen by educational leaders in the developing world more as a reliable source to reinforce quality in the study programmes than as a threat. MOOCs may help institutions to think creatively and innovatively and to explore new pedagogical practices, business models, and flexible learning paths in their provision (Yuan & Powell, 2013). It seems that hybrid courses and blended courses may become more widespread, which may strengthen the courses offered by the existing universities. In fact, MOOCs provide an opportunity for brick-­and-­mortar universities to restructure their academic activities and pedagogical practices and to transit to new ways of offering and organising their study programmes (Varghese, 2014).

Concluding remarks

The internationalisation of higher education in the context of globalisation has become a market-­mediated process, where internationalisation is an item of cross-­border trade. The new providers of higher education are more often investors than educators, and cross-­border trade in education is a lucrative business involving billions of dollars.

Although there are four modes of trade in education under the GATS framework, this paper focused on three important modes, namely trade through the cross-­border mobility of students, institutions, and programmes. The paper shows that although the student flow used to be the most common form of cross-­border education, institutional and programme mobility, which emerged in this century, are expanding very fast. The student flow is mostly from developing to developed countries, whereas institutional and programme mobility are from developed to developing countries. In all three types and forms of cross-­border higher education flows, the financial flow is from the developing to developed countries.←35 | 36→

Higher education remains an expanding sector, especially in the developing world, even during the recent period of economic crisis. Cross-­border higher education continues to see unabated growth. Cross-­border education, especially in terms of programme mobility, shows the extensive possibilities of expanding the system. It is also relied upon to reinforce teaching and learning, and to improve the quality of higher education in many countries. The strategies to develop higher education need to focus on making use of cross-­border education opportunities to improve quality in an expanding system at an affordable cost.


Altbach, Philip G.: Comparative Higher Education: Knowledge, the University and Development. Ablex Publishing Corporation: Greenwich 1998.

Altbach, Philip G. / Knight, Jane: “Internationalisation of higher education: Motivations and realities”. In: National Education Association, The NEA Almanac of Higher Education. NEA, Washington D.C. 2006, pp. 27–36.

American Council of Education (ACE): US Branch Campuses Abroad, ACU Brief, September 2009.

Cao, Yi: “Branch campuses in Asia and the Pacific: Definitions, challenges and strategies”. Comparative International Higher Education (3) 2001, pp. 8–10.

Cross-­border Education Research Team (C-­BERT): Research and news about transnational higher education, January, University of Albany: New York 2016.

Carr, Nicholas: “The crisis in higher education”, MIT Technology Review, 27 September 2012.

Gebel, Michael: MOOCs: Massive Online Open Courses. European University Association: Brussels 2014.

Harden, Nathan: “The end of the university as we know it”. American Interest 8(3), 2013, n.p., retrieved from

Kapur, Devesh / McHale, John: Give Us Your Best and Brightest: The Global Hunt for Talent and Its Impact on the Developing World. Brooking Institution Press: Baltimore 2005.

Knight, Jane: Trade in Higher Education Services: Implications of GATS. Observatory of Borderless Education: London 2002.

Knight, Jane: “Internationalisation remodeled: Definitions, rationales, and approaches”. Journal of Studies in International Education 8 (1), 2004, pp. 27–37.

Knight, Jane: Higher Education Crossing Borders: A Guide to the Implications of the GATS for Cross-­border Education. UNESCO/Commonwealth of Learning: Paris 2006.←36 | 37→

Lane, Jason E.: “Higher Education Internationalisation: Why Governments Care”. In: Ullberg, E. (ed.): New Perspectives on Internationalisation and Competitiveness: Integrating Economics, Innovation, and Higher Education. Springer: New York 2015.

Lane, Jason E. / Owens, Taya L. / Kisner, Kevin: A Cross Border Higher Education, International Trade, and Economic Competitiveness: A Review of Policy Dynamics When Education Crosses Borders. ILEAP, CUTS International Geneva and CARIS: Toronto, Geneva and Brighton 2015.

Lane, Jason E. / Kisner, Kevin: “Five models of international branch campus facility ownership”. International Higher Education (0), 2013, pp. 9–11.

Lester, Simon: “Liberalizing cross-­border trade in higher education: The coming revolution of online universities”. Policy Analysis (720), 2013, pp. 1–16.

Mathews, David: “Expansion causing ‘chaos across the world”. Times Higher Education, 12 April 2013, n.p., retrieved from

Organisation for Economic Co-­operation and Development (OECD): Higher Education for 2030: What Futures for Quality Access in the Era of Globalisation? OECD: Paris 2008.

Tilak, Jandhyala B.G.: “Higher education: A public good or a commodity for trade? Commitment to higher education or commitment of higher education to trade”. Prospects (38), 2008, pp. 449–466.

Tremblay, Karine: “Student mobility between and towards OECD countries: A comparative analysis”. In: Organisation for Economic Co-­operation and Development (ed.): International Mobility of the Highly Skilled, 2002. OECD: Paris, pp. 39–70.

Trucano, Michael: “More about MOOCs and developing countries”. EduTech, 12 November 2013, n.p., retrieved from

UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), carious years: Global Education Digest: Comparing Education Statistics Across the World. Montreal: UIS.

Varghese, N.V.: Globalisation of Higher Education and Cross-­border Student Mobility. IIEP Research Papers. IIEP/UNESCO: Paris 2008.

Varghese, N.V.: “Globalisation and higher education”. Analytical Reports on International Education 5(1), 2013, pp. 7–20.

Varghese, N.V.: “MOOCs and higher education in developing countries”. In: Conference documents on MOOCs 4D: Potential at the Bottom of the Pyramid. University of Pennsylvania: Philadelphia 2014, n.p.

Weiler, Hans W.: “Knowledge, Politics and the Future of Higher Education: Critical Observations on a Worldwide Transformation”. In: Hayhoe, Ruth / Pan,←37 | 38→ Julia (eds.): Knowledge Across Cultures: A Contribution to Dialog Among Civilisations. Comparative Education Centre: Hong Kong 2001, pp. 25–43.

Wilkins, Stephen / Balakrishnan, Melodena: “How well are international branch campuses serving students?” International Higher Education (I66), 2012, pp. 3–5.

Yuan, Li / MacNeill, Sheila / Kraan, Wilbert: “Open educational resources. Opportunities and challenges for higher education”. Joint Information System Committee (JISC) CETIS: Bristol 2008 pp. 134, retrieved 27.7.2017 from

Yuan, Li / Powell, Stephen: MOOCS and Open Education: Implications for Higher Education – A White Paper. Centre for Educational Technology and Interoperability Standards (CETIS): UK 2013.←38 | 39→

1 STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.