Why “Balanced Mobility” in 2007?
As presented in the earlier section, balanced mobility was ﬁrst mentioned as a policy goal in the Bologna Process context in 2007. So what has happened in this period to explain the adoption of this objective at the supranational level, especially knowing that imbalances in student flows were not a new development for most European countries? Just as an example, many countries in Eastern and Southern Europe had for instance for more than a decade not only experienced, but also denounced a particular type of imbalance—“brain drain”, i.e. the fact that much more of their students left to study abroad than students came from abroad into their higher education systems. This outflow of students to other countries coupled with often modest inflows was equalled to an export of talent, a situation no particular country wanted to ﬁnd itself into.
Furthermore, in a recent study of Eurydice (2012), comparing the size of and differences between the numbers of incoming and outgoing degree-seeking students in the EHEA countries, the latter are divided into four types of systems, depending on the kind and magnitude of imbalances they experience. Accordingly, the “limited” systems are found in countries experiencing high outflows but lower inflows (those generally denouncing brain drain), the “closed” countries are those with low outflows and even lower inflows, while the “open” systems are characterised by high outflows but even higher inflows), and ﬁnally the “attractive”, with low outflows and generally high inflows.
What the Eurydice study also does is clearly show that, while balanced mobility might seem like a hard-to-challenge objective—as the very notion of balance has an intrinsic positive value (balance is generally perceived as essentially good, while imbalance as negative)—there are situations where certain types of imbalances are not only seen as positive, but also highly desirable. Just as there are situations in which balanced mobility is not necessarily positively connoted. And as the authors showed through their grouping of systems, for a long time in the European context high student inflows and smaller outflows have been actively pursued as an objective, whereas situations of low inflows and low outflows for example, while balanced, have been largely seen as undesirable. While countries with “attractive systems” (like the UK, France, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium) were seen (despite their great imbalances) as “the benchmark” in terms of student mobility, countries with “limited systems”, although showing more balanced flows, were clearly not a model.
Therefore imbalances were not a new phenomenon in 2007 and certain imbalances in student inflows have not only been tolerated, but actively pursued. So coming back to our question, why balanced mobility in the Bologna Process in 2007? Because, particularly in the mid-2000s, some of the countries with “attractive” systems and which enjoyed greater power of influence in the Bologna Process became to an extent victims of their own success. Several of them started to feel some negative consequences of too high inflows of foreign students, either in the form of (hindered) access of their own nationals to higher education in speciﬁc ﬁelds (e.g. Austria and the French-speaking Community of Belgium) or related to the cost of education, i.e. questioning the legitimacy of educating foreigners by using national tax-payers' money in countries with no or not very high tuition fees (e.g. Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany more recently).
Two elements speak in favour of this interpretation in particular:
• the focus in the EHEA context on balance in degree mobility, although balance is a concept speciﬁc to credit mobility, as commented above, and although imbalances were equally observed in credit mobility (Teichler et al. 2011, p. 92, Vol. I); and
• the focus on imbalances related to incoming degree mobility, alluding to
countries “confronted with” a high influx of students from abroad, although imbalances related to outgoing mobility (“brain drain”) had a much longer history in the Bologna context.
The ﬁrst type of negative consequence—limited access for own nationals—has been experienced by 2 countries in particular. Austria and the French-speaking Community of Belgium had been trying to cope for over a decade with a high influx of foreigners from neighbouring countries Germany and respectively France (with whom they shared the same language) in a speciﬁc subject area—medical and paramedical studies—regulated by a numerus clausus condition. As the German and the French applicants crossing the border and applying in the neighbouring countries became more numerous, they increasingly prevented the access of Austrian and Walloon students to this subject area. In 2005 for example, 40 % of the new entrants in medical studies in Austria were German nationals. To cope with this situation, the two EU member states decided in 2006 to introduce student quotas in this subject ﬁeld, i.e. to reserve a number of places for domestic students and to thus limit the access of foreign (also EU) nationals (Pechar 2014). As of
2006, 75 % of study places in medicine in Austria and 70 % in Wallonia are reserved for own nationals.
This move has gotten both Austria and the French-speaking Community of Belgium in a dispute with two European Union institutions—the European Commission (EC) and the European Court of Justice (ECJ), for breaching a fundamental right in the EU context—the right to free movement (Garben 2012). After long deliberations, the EC (in 2007) and the ECJ in a preliminary ruling (in 2010) have concluded that, while imposing quotas for other EU-nationals violates the right to free movement in the EU framework, such practices could be accepted in very speciﬁc situations. The countries in question had to demonstrate that their national systems would be, without imposing such measures, at risk. Therefore, Austria and the French-speaking Community of Belgium were given a moratorium until 2016, by which time they have to demonstrate that the foreign medical students graduating in their countries leave after graduation, and that as a result the Austrian and the Walloon healthcare systems will inevitably be confronted with an undersupply of medical staff.
The second type of negative consequence felt by “attractive” countries had to do with the cost of educating large cohorts of foreigners and its legitimacy. One of the countries in this situation was Denmark. For years Denmark had been a net receiver of degree-seeking students from the other Nordic countries, or, otherwise said, the other Nordic countries were having big groups of their own nationals educated in Denmark (at the latter's expense). To cover for this extra cost for Danish universities, a compensation system was put in place already in 1996 in the framework of the Nordic Council of Ministers, under which Denmark would be entitled to a lump sum for each student it enrolled from another Nordic country (Wächter 2013). The compensation system was managed through the budget of the Nordic Council of Ministers, Denmark not having to receive directly any payments.
It must be said though that this type of compensation mechanism, also found for example in Switzerland between the Swiss cantons, is not designed to redress the imbalances as such, i.e. is not meant to reduce the gap between inflows and outflows, but rather to remedy the ﬁnancial consequences of imbalances and the burden off the country primarily affected by the imbalances. In other words, the compensation mechanism is a model of cost-sharing between the countries involved, but does not automatically lead to more balanced mobility.
National debates about the cost of educating foreigners have taken place in recent years also in countries like Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany, but have so far concluded with the ﬁnding that if only a small share of foreign graduates remain and work in their host country upon graduation then the economic returns signiﬁcantly outweigh the initial investment in education. Given the strong link between degree mobility and migration, critical discussions have also taken place in France and the UK, as to the impact and rights of foreign graduates, but the two countries have not yet taken any measures to limit the number of international students.