Overseas students, also known as international students, contribute immensely to many western economies, which have an open access policy to their higher education. It is estimated that overseas students bring about £5 billion annually to the UK in terms of tuition fees and living expenses. International students are not only a source of revenue for such economies, but they also bring diverse skills and an international dimension to the labour force.
This international dimension has proven to enhance productivity. Students from developing countries, working as part-time unskilled and semi-skilled workers, have proven to be more flexible in terms of working hours. As a result, many employers prefer to employ such students, especially as they also prove to be less costly.
Since the 1960s, many students from developing countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh have been going to western universities for higher studies. Their decision to opt for foreign universities for postgraduate taught courses has been influenced by a desire to find a suitable job in the country of choice.
With the increasing interest in attaining a foreign qualification, a number of private colleges cropped up in countries like UK. Many international students were attracted by the flexibility such colleges offered in terms of granting permission for work on a part-time basis. The colleges benefited from the payment of tuition fees. Consequently, many ‘bogus’ colleges were set up in UK to help such students prolong their stay – legally, they could work while at the same time enrolled as full-time students.
The current Conservative Party government has pursued a very aggressive policy of cracking down on such colleges, which has resulted in the closure of many of them. Those colleges that are still in the business are expected to raise their standards, resulting in an increase in operational costs. Tuition fees have, therefore, risen. Consequently, it has increasingly become difficult for the foreign students to prolong their legitimate stay in UK. It has become “uneconomical” for many such students, increasing fees (as well as a clampdown on visa applications) are forcing them to return to their countries of origin.
Developed nations are not the sole destination for foreign students. From among countries of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), Malaysia is attracting a lot of foreign students from Africa and Asia.
One finds students from Iran, Nigeria, Mauritania, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and others enrolled in various universities in Malaysia. In Pakistan, there were a large number of foreign students in universities and medical colleges throughout the country. Unfortunately, following 9/11, the problem of terrorism has had a negative effect on the number of foreign students coming to Pakistan.
Nevertheless, one of the biggest benefits of having international students is the cost-effective export of local culture to the countries from where international students originate. For example, many former foreign students of International Islamic University Islamabad from around the world learned Urdu language during their stay in the country. Having lived in Pakistan for three to seven years, these students attained fluency in the local language and adopted many of the cultural practices before returning to their countries of origin.
In this age of cultural suspicion and anxiety, inviting foreign students to Pakistan for studies can be used as an effective means of exporting local culture. It provides a channel through which the overall benignity of Pakistani culture can be espoused. The war on terror should not deter the country, by way of heavily scrutinising foreign student applications, to use education to counter other more aggressive forms of cultural invasion perpetrated by the media of many countries.