Prague hosted last week the largest conference of higher education with approximately 5.000 participants from all over the world. John Minadakis, our CEO and I were representing IST as we are offering higher education programmes in collaboration with foreign universities for more than two decades. Higher education is a large and very dynamic sector of the global economy.
Just to grasp the whole picture- here are some facts:
In 2001, there were 2 million international students studying in a country other than their home country. In 2011, this number had actually doubled and there were 4 million students! In 2025, the number is expected to grow even further to 7,5 million students!
In the Conference most of the countries had exhibition stands to promote their country as a study destination, i.e. 'study in Poland', 'study in Lithuania', in Switzerland, in Korea, in Japan, you name it. Greece was loudly absent! The top 4 study destinations in the world are Australia, the US, the UK and Switzerland. Needless to say, Greece is the lowest in OECD’s tables in internationalisation!
With an increasing number of mobile students, Greece cannot afford not to have an internationalisation strategy anymore. Greece could easily attract 50.000 international students and amongst the numerous benefits for the promotion of the country would also be an income of 1 billion euros, only from this activity. Not an unrealistic goal if you think that in the Turkish part of Cyprus there are more than 65.000 international students, making higher education the largest economic sector of this part of the world that diplomatically is only recognised by Turkey. Consider also that students will not only pay tuition fees, but they will also rent houses, have living expenses, will travel and then, eventually, they will become the best ambassadors of the country returning many more times along with their families for holidays. International students also help local students at the host country to become more open-minded as they are exposed to different points of views and customs.
But what is behind a student's decision? Programme selection and subject areas are what matter most for students. IST has a wide variety of interesting programmes from tourism and international business to computer science and psychology at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.
Understandably, the whole debate about the recognition of the degrees issued by European Universities that have franchise agreements with private Colleges has not positively influenced students’ decision making. Now, with this issue finally resolved in Greece, the colleges like IST that offer programmes of prestigious foreign universities taught in English can be at the hotspot of international students.
Greece has a huge potential, as it is a safe and beautiful country with a diverse and rich cultural heritage. However, if Greece decides to finally become an international study destination, there are three crucial issues to be considered: visa procedures, a strategy at national level, and then the vital need to create and promote a national brand platform with the contribution of all stakeholders from current students, academic staff, alumni, to national agencies, the government and municipalities involved. Greece will strongly need to build its reputation of excellence and quality education. It is an initiative of great challenge, but of great potential impact as well. After all Greece is the country where knowledge was born!
For John and me these four days in Prague were an open minding experience, with great network events, inspiring speeches, an opportunity to meet old friends from all over the world and to establish new partnerships to succeed in our institution's aims in this new era. Next meeting is scheduled in Glasgow in 2015! IST is going to have a presence there!Hopefully, so will Greece!