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Study Abroad: A 21st Century Perspective - Volume 1

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How study abroad impacts overseas academic communities by Axel Markert
Director of International Relations, Eberhard-Karls Universität Tübingen

In the decade following World War II, the German universities were eager to attract students from abroad again. During the late fifties, many American institutions began to establish programs for undergraduate students. Usually these programs were for groups of juniors since the German regulations would not allow for earlier admission and the home universities, as a rule, wanted the students back on campus for their year of graduation. Many of these Junior Year Abroad Programs were organized by a given American college but accepted students from other schools as well. A 'Resident Director' was often hired by the sending institution to help with the integration of the students in the German higher educational context, to provide a liaison function to the German host university, and to help with credit transfer. These programs, which of course also existed in Britain, France, Spain and Italy, presented one of the first examples of non-degree 'organized mobility' on the German academic scene. German universities, before the expansion of the 60's, were still elitist in their outlook and especially academic periods abroad were reserved for the cream of the crop. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), which had already been founded in the 1920's, would continue to select advanced individual applicants from its member universities and send them abroad with generous grants. In turn, it provided scholarships to highly qualified foreign students who, as a rule, also had to be graduates. Guest students at German universities who came from other countries were usually individual applicants, and often came to earn a degree rather than to just broaden their academic experience.

Since the American colleges paid for their Resident Directors and other infrastructural items which they deemed necessary for their students, there was usually no offer of reciprocity despite the fact that students were charged tuition fees at home while there were (and are) no such charges at the German schools. The DAAD offered a certain number of contact or linkage grants to German universities which they could pass on to graduates from their partner institutions, provided there was a counteroffer on the other side. These often took the form of teaching assistantships in the German language departments. Some of the Junior Year Programs also made such offers to the German host institutions - not necessarily for altruistic reasons: The German students, after all, had to work for their grants, and were also welcome helpers in the recruitment process for the program. When in the 60's and 70's demand for study abroad experiences started to grow in Germany, roughly parallel to the general growth in student numbers, DAAD and Fulbright scholarships as well as contact grants were not sufficient any longer to satisfy the demand for places abroad. The US continued to be the favorite destination for German students, and as a matter of fact Germany remains the most important sending country among the European nations. Some of us, therefore, started to look for other than the trodden elitist paths. The Junior Year programs on our campuses and their general education philosophy provided a useful egalitarian model: Every student with a halfway decent GPA could participate, and we felt that at least every German student of English should be offered similar opportunities in the UK and the US. Reciprocity, therefore, became the name of the new game. Since funding for the tuition fees overseas was not available to the average students, and our students, at least at that time, were unwilling and unable to come up with such sums on their own and, finally, since we in the institutions had no subsidies to offer, we started to negotiate with our American partners of the Junior Year scene for fee waivers from the other side.

I had learned my lesson as an undergraduate student in Ohio in the mid 60's at a time when the dollar/DM exchange rate was over 4:1. Grandmother's savings went for one semester of tuition at the University of Toledo, and without the help of the Rotary Foundation I would literally not have survived a full academic year. I knew that without an adequate administrative infrastructure very few students would dare to embark on similar adventures. When it turned out that our American partner institutions were very open to our demands for reciprocity, we also started to build the required infrastructure. Of course, we could not expect a (tuition-free) place in the US for every Junior Year student who was enrolled in Tübingen. Quid-pro-quo was easily said, but we had to take the real cost into consideration which was incurred by the American colleges for administering their programs on site. 3:1 was a starting point, soon to develop into a 2:1 ratio—one Tübingen student accepted at the partner institution, tuition-free, for every two American exchange students from that school. In our exchanges with state institutions, especially the newer ones, we could often send as many students as we accepted. True to German tradition, we still wanted to send our students not in a program, not in a structured group, but as individual students. Therefore, rather than sending more students to a given institution, we developed more exchange relationships which led to a fast growing number of agreements. Until the late 70's, though, we did not have specialized study abroad advisers to face the challenge which this growth rate presented. As at most German universities, this task used to be the part-time responsibility of a foreign student advisor who was also giving advice on application procedures for DAAD and Fulbright grants and doling out information on higher education abroad. I am inclined to think that Tübingen was the first one among the German universities to establish the position of a full-time Study Abroad Adviser, a lesson we learned from our American counterparts. Others followed soon.

Therefore, the ground was well prepared in Germany when the European mobility programs started to come around. In some of the major receiver countries of American students, however, it was not. I , for one, therefore doubted that programs on that scale could be administered in some of these countries which were lacking the technical infrastructure. Nor was I completely wrong. The students were usually exchanged in groups, another lesson learned from the U.S. study abroad programs, and notably Italian universities, in the early years of ERASMUS, seemed to be unable to cope with the administrative demands of expediting student groups. For a while, the Italian 'free mover' became a minor headache in some of the host universities. But nearly all of the participating countries caught on rather quickly : The flow of euros from Brussels was likely to be smoother if the handling became more professional. By the time the European Association for International Education was founded in 1989, there was a goodly number of European colleagues who thought of themselves as study abroad staff. Interestingly though, the Europeans continued to regard Foreign Student and Study Abroad Advisers as members of one crew. The section which the EAIE's founders had intended to model after NAFSA's SECUSSA, the SECtion on U.S. Students Abroad, therefore became a 'SAFSA' for Study Abroad and Foreign Student Advisers.

The more general trend towards 'internationalization' has meanwhile replaced the study abroad and foreign student activities of higher educational institutions on both sides of the Atlantic. In its wake, English seems to have become the uncontested lingua franca, and not only in academia. European language departments in most American colleges suffer from it, and Junior Year Abroad programs in those Western European countries who had been the main receivers, have started to dwindle. Germany, which at any rate has held only the fifth rank among those (behind the UK, France, Spain and Italy) , suffers the most precisely because it was and is the main sender country. The reciprocity for which we fought twenty years ago and which in the final balance used to be to the (numerical) advantage of American institutions, has now developed into a balance which is unequal the other way around. Tübingen, which used to receive over 250 students from the US and sent 200, has now only 130 American students for over 180 it sends. A considerable advantage on which we can now fall back in Tübingen is that some of our earliest Junior Year Abroad operations, notably the Antioch and Tufts Programs, in over 40 years of existence have become dependable partners in testing and establishing new formats, and reciprocity is generously viewed in its broadest possible sense. The same, of course, is true for similar programs in other German universities. Our State of Baden-Württemberg has established a good number of statewide exchanges with Oregon, Massachusetts, California and others whose broad and diversified basis also helps to overcome the present-day problems.

It is not unlikely that tuition charges will be levied at German universities in the not-too-distant future, and this will change the nature of the game substantially. Mutual waivers, of course, will remain a condition for exchanges and the established American study abroad programs therefore should be sheltered from such charges. The developments described above will lead, and have already led in some cases, to programs which are partially or even totally taught in English. This poses a new challenge in terms of integrating the guest students and ensuring an adequate command of English among our teachers. Fortunately, we have excellent models to follow among our neighbors to the north who, with their 'less spoken languages,' had to adapt to these necessities long ago. For the first time in German university history, we will have to give serious thought to marketing and recruitment and pay attention to what our exchange customers expect from us - rather than just adopting a take-it-or-leave-it stance as we could afford to in the past. Networks and consortia will play a larger role in it all, since sharing of resources and economies of scale will impose themselves. Shorter and more intensive programs will become available, and the reproach of 'academic tourism' will lose most of its sting. Finally, the demands of business on its way to an ever faster process of globalization will necessitate our attention with its demands for a work force which has living experience in, and practical expertise for more than just one country. Internships will therefore be more in demand than ever before. Fluency in a foreign language will become less important than it used to be, but a sound knowledge of a country's culture and customs will play more of a role instead.

The impact of study abroad on other academic communities cannot be overestimated, as the German-American example shows. 19th century German influences on the American system, usually in itself a result of academic sojourns of notable Americans at German universities, have come back to their sources with Junior Year Abroad programs and have in turn influenced German higher education. Taking its lead from the US example, Study Abroad has become a high-priority item on the agenda of practically all German universities and will, I am sure, continue the cross-fertilization process between both systems.

Next article: Still Missing the Boat? Faculty Involvement in Study Abroad by Norman J. Peterson

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