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Krishnapratap Bhagwantrao Powar

Developing-World Perspective on Cross Border Higher Education

Krishnapratap Bhagwantrao Powar
Edupro Foundation

The developing regions of the world acknowledge the fact that cross-border higher education (CBHE) in its traditional form, has played an important role in building the essential capacities required for their developmental activities. However, the CBHE operating in the present GATS-controlled regime is viewed with apprehension.

In most developing countries there is broad acceptance that CBHE can provide them the much-needed quality education in professional disciplines and emerging specializations; and to an extent address, in some countries, the problem of access. At the same time there is concern that CBHE, with emphasis on economic gain, can have a deleterious effect on indigenous higher education systems, encourage a new form of elitism and its operation may not be in consonance with national policies and national interests. This has caused many developing countries to introduce regulations to control, restrict or monitor their activities of foreign providers.

The approach of the developing countries to CBHE, as a trade in services, is one of caution. They would like controlled activities that preclude economic exploitation. Significantly, some developing countries are themselves making efforts to venture out.

Author names - Title of article


Cross-border education is not a new phenomenon for developing countries, especially for countries like India, China and Egypt that have long histories. These had, during ancient times, centers of learning that attracted students and scholars from distant lands who came to gain knowledge, exchange ideas and propagate thoughts. During medieval times, the first universities of Europe were established as centers for traveling students, teachers and monks. Cross-border education acquired a formal form in the early nineteenth century and grew steadily during the twentieth century, incorporating along the way the concepts of academic collaboration and institutional partnerships. Following the advent of globalization, in the last decade of the last millennium, the growth of cross-border education has reached almost exponential proportions, and today it has become an integral part of all mature higher education systems.

During the twentieth century there was a fair amount of cross-border educational activity based on academic, cultural and political rationales. Britain, France, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands replicated the models of their higher education systems in the countries they colonized. They thus laid the foundation of modern higher education in their respective colonies. Young, enterprising people, generally representing the rich and the elite of these colonies, proceeded to the countries of their `masters' to undertake higher education that would enable them, on their return, to lay claims to influential or lucrative positions. Consequently, when many of the present developing countries emerged as free nations, in the years immediately following World War II, they already had a foundation of higher education.

Practically all of the developing countries, realizing the role of education in national development, accorded priority to the development of their education systems, particularly the higher education system. Indigenous efforts were supplemented by assistance from developed countries. The political rationale acquired an important dimension after World War II, following the United Nation's prescription of making education a means of promoting greater understanding amongst nations. It is another matter that, with the economic growth of many developing countries, there was a transition from the gifting of knowledge (aid) to its marketing as a commodity (trade), and the economic rationale became all-important. Even so, cross-border education was welcomed largely because it promoted student mobility and institutional collaboration.



With the implementation of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), in 1996, cross-border education acquired a new dimension. The identification of education as a service sector led to the profit-motive becoming an important consideration in cross-border supply of education. New forms and new practices have emerged and cross-border education no longer implies largely the mobility of students and scholars, or institutional partnerships. As Knight (2006) succinctly points out a complex world of cross-border education is emerging which has new types of providers, new types of delivery, new types of programs and qualifications, and new forms of collaboration and partnerships.

Under GATS cross-border supply of education can be made through four modes, viz. Cross-Border Supply, Consumption Abroad, Commercial Presence and Movement of Natural Persons.


Cross Border Supply

Cross-border supply of education is represented by distance education programs. These take two forms - conventional distance education using print and audio-visual material, and e-learning or virtual learning using Internet technology as the main delivery mode. Conventional distance education is fairly advanced in the developing countries, and there are large, technologically advanced universities like the Indira Gandhi National Open University in India, the Shanghai T.V. University in China the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, Mexico and the University of South Africa in South Africa, that offer quality distance education programs at low cost. The open universities of Asia offer programmes at15 to 40 percent of the cost of formal education (Yoshida, 2001). Some of the open universities even offer off-shore programs to neighbouring countries. The possibilities of the developing countries importing education from the developed world, through the cross-border supply mode, are, therefore, low. Consequently the developing countries are not unduly concerned about the adverse effects of conventional distance open education.

Cross Border Supply through the Internet has immense potential, especially in disciplines like management and trade that have strong international components. Foreign universities may find profitable markets in the developing countries where there is great demand for professional education but relatively few opportunities. India is perhaps an exception, at least as far as computer education in concerned. (Some well-known training institutes based in India offer, globally, further education programmes in professional areas like software development). The huge market in the developing regions, and especially in Asia, is attractive in so far as the institutions in the developed world are concerned. There are conflicting views as to whether uncontrolled use of the Internet for higher education should be allowed. Some developing countries perceive the danger of their indigenous higher education system being inundated by the flow of information from the developed countries. Hence, these developing countries may find the need to regulate cross-border supply of education, using electronic transmission. This could be achieved through the framing of appropriate legislation or through other measures, like the non-recognition of degrees awarded through the e-mode, and denial of permission for joint ventures.


Consumption Abroad

Trade in education by way of Consumption Abroad finds manifestation in student mobility. The magnitude of this trade, and its potential, is clear from the fact that in 2003 there were approximately two million international students worldwide, with the United States hosting nearly a third of them. An Australian study (Bohm, 2003) estimates that by 2025 the total number of international students would be approaching eight million. About 60 per cent of the world's international students come from the developing countries of Asia, chiefly China, India, Japan and South Korea. The major receiving countries are the countries of the developed world led by United States and followed by United Kingdom, Germany, France and Australia.

International student mobility is heavily skewed in favour of the developed countries (see Powar, 2005) and for all practical purposes it is a one way flow from the developing countries to the developed ones. Significantly a fair percentage of the students from the developing countries are in masters and doctoral programs. A large number of the better students stay on and contribute to the `brain drain'. Yet, very few of the developing countries have thought of restricting student outflow. Even if students stay on in the country of study, they continue to take interest in their countries of origin and many regularly repatriate money to their families. As things stand countries may not place restrictions on students going abroad except in case of emergencies, like war and severe financial crisis.

Some of the developing countries are making efforts to attract students from abroad. Students from other developing countries are being recruited for degree and diploma programs in the professional courses and those from the developed world for short-term courses and for special courses designed to meet the requirements of study abroad programs. Governments of developing countries are taking steps in this direction by providing incentives, easing visa requirements, simplifying admission procedures, encouraging institutions to participate in twinning programs and initiating steps to market programs. Significantly, countries like India and China are now both importers and exporters of education.


Commercial Presence

The mode of trade in educational services that is causing the most heart-burn in developing countries is commercial presence. Society at large, and administrators and educators in particular, are uneasy with the presence of foreign providers to which are being attributed various ills, including that of having a negative impact on national ethos. Commercial Presence of a country in another has an economic rationale. Towards the end of the last century a diminishing of governmental support forced many universities in the developed countries to find new means of generating funds for their maintenance and development. The advent of the free-market economy in the early 1990s provided them an opportunity to do so by marketing their educational wares in the developing world where there was a steadily increasing demand for higher education, especially professional higher education.

Foreign providers have found direct involvement through commercial presence as being the most rewarding mode of export. Commercial Presence itself takes different forms (McBurnie, 2004):

  1. Grant of franchise to local academic institutions or business organizations, which provide the physical infrastructure and administer the programmes (Franchise Model).

  2. Twinning programmes with universities leading to joint-degrees or dual degrees, and articulation arrangements involving study on host and home campuses (Articulation Model).

  3. Establishment of a local centers or campuses (Campus Model).

The franchise model is the most common but from the view of the host country the most disturbing, as the franchisees being business houses concentrate only on the aspect of profit. Academic matters generally receive only perfunctory attention with the result that quality suffers. From the point of view of the developing countries franchise operations in which the local partners are non-academic institutions need to be discontinued. Twinning programs between universities that lead to joint or dual degrees are presently uncommon. Articulation programs are proving to be useful as they allow students to acquire foreign degrees at lower cost, and imbibe the educational environment of developed countries. Twinning and articulation programmes need to be promoted in the developing countries. However, care must be taken to seen that both partners are institutions of recognised merit. During the last three to five years a number of western universities hare entered into twinning arrangements, of the articulation model, with institutions in the developing countries. Off-shore centers have been established in Asian countries by universities of the developed countries (mainly the Australian universities) and these have apparently proved to be useful. However, providers are generally reluctant to invest large amounts in setting up full-scale operations. Interestingly, India is a developing country that has actually ventured out in the field and three of its universities have set up institutions in countries having a significant Indian Diaspora. All three universities are in the private sector.


Presence of Natural Persons

Movement of teachers and scholars from the developed world to the Asian countries is at a low level. This is because western scholars are not willing to go to developing countries for extended periods. The chances of there being an appreciable increase in teacher mobility in this direction, for extended periods of service, are remote. However, there are a large number of teachers and researchers from the developing countries in the developed world. There does not appear to be much difficulty in respect of this mode of trade except, perhaps, in the issue of the initial visa. It may be necessary for the host countries to scrutinize academic credentials and political leanings.



In most developing countries there is acceptance of the fact that cross-border higher education can provide them the much-needed quality education in professional disciplines and emerging specializations; and it can also address in some countries the problem of access. There is the awareness that cross-border providers can energize local institutions through both example and competition. Also that it can result in multiple benefits to the developing countries including the internationalization of curricula, improvement of infrastructure, development of a quality culture and a general uplift of academic standards. However, at the same time, there is concern about the fact that that the quality of education provided by the foreign providers is highly variable, sometimes indifferent. There is apprehension that cross-border higher education, with an emphasis on economic gain, could have a deleterious effect on indigenous higher education systems and that the education imparted through cross-border education may not be in consonance with national policies and national interests. In the more populous developing countries, that have witnessed a `massification' of higher education, it could lead to the emergence of a new form of elitism. More importantly, the incoming of foreign providers may provide an excuse to cash-strapped governments to withdraw, at least partially, from their commitment to higher education (Powar, 2003).

These factors have led to many countries, especially in Asia, to introduce regulatory mechanisms (`barriers to trade' from the viewpoint of the developed countries). The All India Council for Technical Education, which oversees engineering and management education in India, has issued regulations to control the entry and operation of foreign universities/institutions for imparting technical education. Hong Kong has issued a Non-Local Higher Education (Regulation) Ordinance. Malaysia has several pieces of regulations that control the operation of foreign educators. In Indonesia foreign providers have to apply for a license to operate as a working partner of a local institution. Recent Chinese regulations require foreign providers to be partnered by a local institution, and a multi-staged approval system has been put in place (McBurnie, 2004). The restrictions placed by the Regulations take different forms like placing limitations on the number of programmes, partners and campuses, insisting on joint venture with a local academic partner, imposing high license fees and/or taxes, and regulating the amount of money that can be repatriated.

The concern about cross-border education under GATS, expressed in developing countries, is understandable. However, a pragmatic appraisal of available information suggests that cross-border education should not pose, at least for the present, any major problem for the developing countries. As Daniel et al. (2005) point out providers from the developed world can penetrate, to a significant extent, the markets of the developing countries only if their offerings are accessible, affordable and available. The programmes of conventi0onal distance education, as stated earlier, are not in demand. The accessibility of programmes offered through the electronic media is limited to the few, largely in metropolitan areas, who have access to Internet technology. The programmes are unaffordable to the vast majority. Programmes in liberal disciplines that are relevant to the social and cultural needs of the local people are rare, and the programmes commonly available are those relating to business management, information technology, and technology which are required by the specialized few. Moreover, the providers of the developed world seemed to be concentrating on the countries having a high human development index. To be successful in the developing world for-profit providers will have to cut costs dramatically, increase efficiency and offer programmes that are of immediate relevance to the developing countries. This does not seem to be possible in the immediate future. Till then the foreign providers can reach only the minuscule minority comprising the `creamy layer'.



In the developing countries there is some apprehension about the detrimental effects of cross-border education in a GATS-controlled regime. However, these countries are not opposed to cross-border higher education per se . In fact, some of them are themselves making efforts to venture out. By all accounts the developing countries welcome cross-border higher education in its traditional form with the providers being established universities and academic institutions. The difficulty is with for-profit providers who, taking advantage of the provisions of GATS, adopt a commercial approach. For cross-border higher education to flourish, with a reasonable profit for the providers, there has to be a collaborative approach and respect for the policies, culture and sentiments of the host nations.



Bohm, A., (2002), IDP Education: Report on Growth in Demand for International Education by Students Worldwide , - Market Research-Research Publications.

Daniel, J., Kanwar, A. and Uvallic-Trumbic, S., (2005), Who's Afraid of Cross-border Education?: A Developing World Perspective. INQAAHE Annual Conference, Final Plenary Session: `Quality Assurance in Transnational Issues'. Wellington, New Zealand.

Knight, Jane, (2006), Higher Education Crossing Borders: Issues and Implications of GATS , Draft of Executive Summary of a Report prepared for the Commonwealth of Learning and UNESCO.

McBurnie, G., (2004), Transnational Education: National and International Responses, in K.B. Powar and K.L. Johar (Editors), Private Initiatives in Higher Education , pp. 78-93, Sneh Prakashan, Yamunanagar.

Powar, K.B., (2003), Indian Higher Education in a GATS-controlled Regime: Looking for a Pathway in the Haze of Uncertainty, Higher Education Policy and Practices, 1(1&2): 1-9.

Powar, K.B., (2005), Asia: From Importers of Education to Partners in Cooperation, in Franziska Muche (Editor), Opening up to the Wider World , pp. 61-68, Lemmens-Verlags, Bonn.

Yoshida, A., (2001), Distance Higher Education and a New Trend of Virtual Universities in Asia, in F.T. Tschang and T Della Santa (Editors), Access to Knowledge: New Information Technologies and the Emergence of the Virtual University, Pergamon-Elsevier Science, Amsterdam.

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