Why Education is the new global currency

Bitcoin may have been getting all the hype, but there is growing evidence that in a world without borders it is not virtual money that is the global currency, but a university education.

As national borders become increasingly permeable, it is becoming clear that more and more graduates will be competing in an international jobs market. And many consider that the best asset they can have is a degree from the ‘right’ university.

Figures released this month show that record numbers of children are studying at international schools. Data published by the UK-based International School Consultancy (ISC) group shows that 3.6 million children aged 3-18 attended international schools in the 2013/14 academic year, up from 3.3 million the previous year.

These schools usually provide internationally-recognized qualifications, as well as a degree of elitism, but most of all they offer an English-speaking education.

And according to ISC chairman Nicholas Brummitt, a key reason why parents forked out $36 billion dollars in fees for international schools last year is that they want their children to get into an English-speaking university.

The biggest growth for international schools has been in Asia, where enrolments have risen by 65% over the last five years. The UAE leads the way in the numbers of students at international schools (389,000), followed by Saudi Arabia (209,000), China (150,000), India (142,000), Pakistan (137,000) and Qatar (107,000).

International schools provide a route to the world's top universities

But it is not just international schools. In a previous post, I wrote about the number of students coming to U.K. schools from outside the E.U., with access to universities both in the U.K. and the U.S. a core motivation. I also recently spoke with a U.K. school principal who told me that one of the biggest trends among his students over recent years is the increase in the number applying to study in the U.S.

The result is that around one in 10 undergraduates at U.K. universities come from outside the E.U., according to figures published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, with another 5% from E.U. countries.

In the U.S. the number of international students reached a record high last year, with an increase of 7%, although they still make up less than 4% of all students.

The allure of these universities of course is their international reputation. Whatever the standard of education, the reality is that certain universities are seen as more desirable than others. At Cambridge University, 17.5% of first degree students are international students, while at Oxford the equivalent figure is 13.8%.

According to university rankings specialist QS, the growth in international enrolments is particularly marked at leading universities, rising by 9% last year at its top 100 ranked institutions, compared with 6.5% among the top 400.

International rankings underline the dominance of English-speaking universities. Out of the top 20 in the Times Higher Education rankings, only one is outside the English-speaking world, while in QS’s rival list there are just two.

But while English-speaking universities are having it their own way now, it may not last long. Universities outside the English-speaking world are fast catching up, and themselves becoming international hubs.

QS reports that international student numbers at the 10 Chinese universities ranked in its global top 400 rose by 38% last year, the majority from Russia, Japan and South Korea but significant numbers coming from the U.S. and Europe.

Academics may dispute the validity of international comparisons – or even of ranking universities at all – but there is no doubt that they matter to the people who matter: students and their parents.

And the reason they matter is that a growing number of people realise they will be competing for jobs around the world with people from around the world. And if an education from a particular university can give them an advantage, then that really is a currency worth having.

Teacher Tuesday Week 7: Mosammat from Bangladesh

If someone told you there was a floating school in Bangladesh, you’d immediately begin to questions its logistics and structural integrity. If someone told you there was a floating school in Bangladesh that featured computers with internet access which were powered exclusively by solar panels, you’d think they’d begun to confuse reality with a Terry Pratchett novel.

However, that is exactly what is happening as you’re reading this. Mosammat Reba Khatun is 40 years old and lives in a small riverside village in Bangladesh. For the past ten years she has been teaching Bengali, Maths and English on Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha’s floating school on the Gumani river in the Pabna district in northwest Bangladesh. In total, the school teaches 90 students between six and nine years old. Almost two-thirds of the pupils are girls.

It may seem like a bizarre and fantastical notion at first but the rationale behind Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha’s floating school is quite logical. Mosammat tells us that “flooding is a major problem in Bangladesh. In the monsoon season, at least a third of the country is affected by flooding which isolates entire communities and means children can’t get to school so we thought ‘if the children can’t come to school, the school will come to the children’”.

Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha was a 2012 WISE Award winner (World Innovation Summit in Education, Qatar). You can find many more details, including videos, about the solar-powered floating schools on the WISE website.

Because the school is mobile, it is able to travel around villages in the remote river basin where it makes port. This means that the teachers within the school can discuss and converse with local parents easily. As if the case with much of the developing world, Mosammat tells us “the children under age 5 are malnourished and infant mortality rate is high. Girls are not allowed to move around freely.  We meet with the parents monthly to encourage them to send their children to school regularly…as a result; the rate of early marriage is reduced” The fact that the school doubles as a means of transport enables wider communication, a truly novel and innovative idea.

The solar-powered nature of the boat means that technology can be used aboard it The latest EFA Global Monitoring Report 2013/4  notes that technology as an excellent means of disseminating information not only for pupils for also for teachers, the internet provides an excellent platform for teachers in developing countries to take a self-guided approach to their development. Macmillan Education have released TeachPitch, a free, global teacher-learning platform for teachers global to continually self-improve.

Despite the yet untold potential of technology and internet in developing communities, it seems there will never be a substitute for a caring, dedicated teacher. Mosammat finished her interview by saying “I decided to become a teacher because I love children and wanted to help them towards developing a better future,” Mosammat told us. “I think teaching is a gift of a lifetime. It has given me immense opportunity to give back to my community, help poor students to access to school, and impart positively on children.”

With the right attitude, a good deal of determination and even more innovation, Mosammat is helping deliver education to children in spite of natural and cultural barriers, she is a paragon of pedagogy and a trailblazer of global education.