This is the era of academic globalization. Developing countries,
along with Eastern Europe and parts of Asia, are experiencing the
trend: Foreign academic institutions, working with local
or setting up shop on their own, are offering academic programs and
degrees. Distance education, using the Internet, is being used to
Sylvan Learning Systems, a for-profit US company that sells test
preparation, announced in January it will be setting up campuses
overseas, starting with the purchase of a private Spanish
It's a signal that the Americans, thus far slow to expand overseas,
will enter the market.
Some of these developments are positive, but not all. It's time
to stand back and evaluate the trend.
Internationalism in higher education is hardly new. Most of the
world's universities stem from medieval European institutions. For
centuries, Latin was the common language of higher education. Now
English has become the Latin of the 21st century. Today there are
1.5 million students studying outside their home countries. The
large majority are from developing countries and are studying in the
The current wave of internationalism has a late-20th century
flavor: It is largely in the private sector. Motivated by profits
instead of government policy or goodwill, it is largely unregulated.
The goals are to meet market demand and to create a market niche
for an "educational product." Those providing the product - mainly
academic institutions and other education providers in English-
speaking countries - are often driven by a need make up budget
There are a variety of educational products being sold. Foreign
study remains a big business, mainly from Asia to the West.
Marketing is increasingly sophisticated as Western schools seek
students worldwide. And despite the economic crisis in Asia, numbers
continue to grow. Between 1996 and 1998, for example, the number of
students going from Korea to the United States increased by 15.5
percent. The US hosts 481,000 overseas students, most of whom pay
all their own expenses.
Universities from industrialized nations increasingly offer
"offshore" degrees. Some renowned institutions offer them, as do
some low-prestige schools or even "degree mills" that sell worthless
"Twinning" arrangements are common, in which a university in Asia
or elsewhere links up with a Western institution. …