Impact and Adjustment

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Higher Education 21: 305-323, 1991.
9 1991 by Philip G. Altbach and the OECD, Paris.

Impact and adjustment: foreign students in comparative perspective* P HILIP G. ALTBACH
Comparative Education Center, State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, N.Y. 14260, U.S.A.

Abstract. F oreign study is a multifaceted phenomenon - its impact is felt on academic institutions in b oth the 'host' and 'sending' countries, on the economies of nations, and of course on the individuals i nvolved. With more than one million students studying abroad, foreign study has assumed c onsiderable importance in higher education planning. This article considers the many aspects of f oreign study and discusses the interrelationships of these elements. The policies of the 'host' nations, f or example, have an impact on higher education planning in the sending countries. The non-return of f oreign students, traditionally referred to as the 'brain drain', is considerably more complex than was o nce thought since Third World graduates settled in the industrialized nations often retain contacts w ith their home countries and increasingly return after a period abroad. This article also considers the v arious 'push' and 'pull' factors which determine the constantly changing flow of foreign students.

H igher education is increasingly international - and foreign students are among the most important and visible elements of this internationalism. There are well over one million students studying outside the borders of their countries- about a million o f these are in OECD nations. The large majority of the world's foreign students are f rom the developing countries of the Third World but flow patterns are complex and subject to change (Zikopoulos 1989). Other elements of the internationalization of higher education are also of considerable importance - the domination of the w orld's research enterprise by a small number of major industrialized nations, the centralization of publication and data transmission networks, the widespread use of English as the world's major scientific language and others have implications for foreign study as well (Altbach 1987). In fact, foreign students are at the center of a complex network of international academic relationships. They are the human embodiments of a worldwide trend toward the internationalization of knowledge a nd research in an integrated world economy.

This essay is concerned with several important aspects of the foreign student p henomenon - those relating to the flow of students from the Third World to the industrialized nations including the impact of foreign students on academic institutions and the impact of foreign study on the students as well as policies relating to these key questions. Its purpose is to reflect on some of the most i mportant generalizations of the available research literature (Altbach, Kelly and L ulat 1985; Altbach and Wang 1989).

* T his study was supported by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Centre f or Educational Research and Innovation. It was presented at the International Seminar on Higher E ducation and the Flow of Foreign Students, convened by the Hochschul-Informations-System, with s upport from the Federal Ministry of Education and Science and the Lower Saxony Ministry of Science a nd Arts in Hannover, Germany on 26th-28th April 1990.

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N otes on the literature

Since this essay is embedded in a specific research literature, it is useful to reflect briefly on the nature and scope of that literature. Foreign study has fairly recently emerged as a topic for serious research and even today it is not usually considered by social scientists concerned with university students, knowledge transfer, sociology o f science or other related subspecializations. Thus, the topic remains somewhat peripheral for research. The large proportion of research on foreign study has been d one by scholars in the field of education who are concerned...
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