How Balanced Are EHEA Mobility Flows?

Although we have seen that balanced mobility was very likely advanced as a policy goal in the Bologna Process by a group of influential countries (part of the “attractive” systems group and that experienced a specific type of imbalance), it is worthwhile to have a look at mobility statistics for the whole group of EHEA countries, to see how balanced or imbalanced student mobility flows currently are.

Concretely, we will look at the relation (ratio) between

• total inflows and outflows per EHEA country;

• inflows from and outflows to other EHEA countries (intra-EHEA balance); and

• inflows from and outflows to non-EHEA countries.

The analysis is based on data on international degree mobility for the year 2010/11, the most recent year available at the time of writing this article in the international data collection of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). Given the major effort to collect mobility data from the national level worldwide, inevitably this dataset presents figures less recent than those available in individual countries, but more comparable (thanks to common definitions used for data collection). We focus on degree mobility only, given the emphasis on degree mobility whenever balance is discussed in the Bologna Process context, but also because of the lack of an EHEA-wide data collection on credit mobility (which makes such an analysis for credit mobility impossible).[1]

Balance Between Total Inflows and Outflows per Country

Figure 1 presents for each EHEA country and for this higher education space as a whole the total number of incoming students divided by the total number of outgoing students, i.e. the IN:OUT ratio. Ratios with a value of 1.0, as well as with a difference of less than 0.10 (equivalent of 10 percentage points) are seen as balanced. Ratios with values higher than 1.1 are imbalanced towards inflows, while ratios with values smaller than 0.9 show imbalances towards outflows.

It is quite clear from the figure that only two (highlighted in green) of the 47 EHEA countries actually have balanced mobility flows—Norway and Greece. As

Fig. 1 IN:OUT ratios for EHEA countries in 2010/11. *Albania, Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Holy See and Montenegro had no data available for inflows, hence the 0 values in the figure for the ratios

earlier commented though, the table also shows that the vast majority of EHEA countries (25 in total) are net exporters of students, while EHEA as a whole is imbalanced towards inflows, receiving almost twice more students than it sends abroad. This is because some of the main receiver countries of foreign students amongst EHEA members are also imbalanced towards incoming (15 countries, the UK—Germany group in the figure).

The size of imbalances also largely varies between EHEA countries—while for countries like Germany, Portugal or Liechtenstein the imbalances are not so significant, for the UK for instance, the number of incoming students is almost 15 times higher than the number of outgoing students.

  • [1] Hypothetically, we could also imagine applying the concept of balance to bilateral flows between countries. But given the stark differences between the size of the higher education systems that are part of EHEA country and given the tradition of certain countries to specialize in certain disciplines that are offered to foreigners (e.g. medical and paramedical studies in Hungary, Romania, etc.) we find it hard to believe that this is what the ministers had in mind when adopting the balance objective. Further on, we could also envisage applying the concept of balance across study fields, and levels of study (Bachelor, Master and Ph.D.). However, given the lack of comparable data at supranational level on these parameters, we could not conduct any such analyses
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