Sunday, April 15, 2007

Why so few study abroad?

With looming application deadlines, and admission decisions in some countries, one wonders how many college or graduate school bound students have applied to study abroad. This has implications for capacity building in the country, but perhaps even more important to the individual applicant is the prospect of tremendous personal gain from earning a foreign degree.

The number of Armenian students studying abroad has been growing over the years but remains well under 3000. According to statistics reported by UNESCO, 2762 students were enrolled in foreign institutions of higher learning in 2004. Of these 1239 were hosted by Russia, 412 by the US, 371 by Germany, 290 by France, and the remaining students by mostly European countries. Depending on the data source, this represents about 3-6 percent of enrollments in the country. Of the 412 enrollments in the US, 112 were at the undergraduate level (US Institute of Higher Education). Given the fact that education, in particular graduate education, is mostly free, why don't we see more enrollments in the west? What explains this trend?

A similar pattern is also observed in Georgia, except for the larger number of enrollments in Germany, and in Azerbaijan, except for the enrollments in Turkey. So there is some sort of a regional pattern, but what is driving this pattern of behavior? Language skills should be ruled out given the dominance of Chinese students; they score high in math but do not perform as well in English. Students from Turkey are quite visible as well. Could it be lack of information? I kind of doubt this as well.

..................... Country of Origin, 2004 ....................
Host Country Armenia Azerbaijan Georgia China Israel Turkey Albania
Russia...... ...1239 ..... 1027 ...1357
US ......... ....412 .......238 ....373 87943 ..3474 .11398 ....916
Germany .... ....371 .......311 ...3000 25284 ..1116 .27582 ....625
France ..... ....290 .......171 ....275 11514 ...343 ..2273 ....369
Belgium .... .....42 .........8 .....22 .1496 ....56 ...292 .....68
Italy ...... .....38 .........7 .....26 ..276 ...923 ...182 ...8494
Turkey...... ....... ......1428 ....143 ..107 ....21 ...... ....591
UK ......... .....36 ........87 .....80 47738 ..1300 ..1960 ....188

It will be good to hear your views on why enrollments continue to be so low, and why so many opportunities are overlooked.

[I have posted the number of the enrollments in Armenia on But these are quite different from those reported by armstat. Any help in reconciling the two sets of data is greatly appreciated.]


Vahé Heboyan said...

I think there are two reasons:

1. the accuracy of published data. How do they count the number of students? did they get the data from Embassies in Armenia?

2. most importantly the infomration as it was pointed out in the article. Given my own example I can tell that it is not hard to get into a Western school given you know how to do it... meanining how to secure funding, whom to contact, etc. The funding issue will be the big one.

3. another reason just came to mind: most of young Armenian students want to get into Business School or Law School. at least this is my impression given my own conversation with young graduates-to-be. All of us know that those 2 areas have the least funding. So, Maybe one should re-direct them into other fields that have more funding available. Armenia does not need that many MBA majors.

nazarian said...

re: 3. Armenia does need MBA-s. The more, the better. That's one area that as been lacking since the Soviet times. I don't know if it was a Soviet conspiracy but I think the sciences were promoted more in Armenia than anything else. Maybe it was because of the handful of brilliant scientists like Victor Hambarcumian who were able to secure funds for scientific studies in the country. Since you couldn't really have a brilliant manager or an economist during the Soviet times, these areas of studies were not well developed in Yerevan.

As for the deficit of Armenian kids studying in the West, the number one concern would be the way the tuition is paid for. No money means no studying abroad. The second concern would be the visa regulations. Armenians are famous for migrating from their homeland, and even though the host countries would like to be the recipients of the brain drain, it's a little difficult politically to get away with it.

David said...

The data for the west are perfect. It is collected by the host country/institutions.
As for tuition, why is it a problem for an armenian student but not for one from china, albania, or turkey? Just look at the rest of the table. There is 100 chance that a student studying math or computer science, or is at least very good in math, and scores well on the GRE, to be accepted and fully funded in an econ phd program somewhere in the west! MBA programs are a different story.

Nanul said...

I think it mostly due to lack of awareness and cultural barrier. There are no education resource centers that will help and guide the potential applicants. How to apply, how to take TOEFL, GRE, GMAT etc. how to find funding, accomodation. All these sound too scary and complicated to young people who have never been outside Armenia in their life.

DG said...

The question should be: Why so much should study abroad? Why the question isn't like this, to find a way to improve the own (higher) education system?! Exchange in knowledge, information and experience is not bad, but it doesn't work out one sided - so let's check the numbers of incoming students. what about this? is there a balanced exchange? or only going from armenia without coming back... at least it's more astonishing how many could pass with falsified certificates.

Anonymous said...

I think the most important barrier for the young Armenians to study abroad is the financial factor.Their chances to get a scholarship are much lower, than that of the students from other countries.It means, that the regional factor plays a decisive role in the low rate of our students in Western Universities. My own experience shows that it really doesn't matter, if you have sufficient language or professional skills to be granted a scholarship. It much depends from which country you come and how much interested the western democracies are in your country.At the moment they are not that much present in our country, and that's why we are somehow disadvantaged. I would never say that our students are less qualified than that of for example Nepal. There are a lot Nepali Students in our University, who are DAAD scholarship holders. It is really simple, Germany does a lot of developing programms in Nepal, so they need these students later on.This is an example of one country.
On the other hand I would say, that the lack of awareness is also another reason for the assumed low number of Armenian students abroad.

Vahe said...

In terms of GRE, TOEFL, etc. IREX does a good job. Several organizations provide tutoring for these tests. I have used their service in the past.

in terms of the accommodations, etc. I agree. The Armenian students lack the knowledge of looking for information online. Everything is in the internet. Or the best: locate an Armenian who is already in your dream university.

I have seen students who come here (Athens, GA, US) and tell me that wish they could do this or that in advance. I would ask why not you tried to contact me. The answer: did not think about it.

The US embassy and other embassies have information offices with plenty of information and support. They should use those resources. And some do.

a perfect solution will be to run a TV program on: "how to study abroad" and/or organize discussion forums.

"dg" raises an important question: Why the question isn't like this, to find a way to improve the own (higher) education system?!

We can come up with plenty of scenarios of improving the existing system, but I am afraid it takes more than idea and money. The human factor is the key and unfortunately do not see a way to change 60+ years old professors that are doing everything to keep the younger generation out being afraid of losing their own jobs.

But one thing is possible to do is to support the local existing educational establishments that are run on western principles. Look at AUA and Agribusiness Teaching Center (ATC). AUA is well known to all of you. I am sure not many have heard about ATC ( I used to teach there for 3 years. The resources and conditions are at least as good as they are in a western university. In the past 7 years, the US government has been generous to provide funding, which made it a success. It even gets students from Georgia. But the funding is to go away soon. This implies an immediate collapse.

The solution should be to find resources to support such wonderful initiatives. And the no 1 resource is the Diaspora. Currently it happens that they got the money and determination to make changes. But we (at ATC) have had a hard time in convincing them to donate for educational projects. Seems everybody is obsessed with other projects. Without any underestimation of their importance, the education is the one that is going to "save" the Armenian nation. It is a long-run investment, but is necessary for creating civil society in the future.

Would like to hear your thoughts on this.

siran said...

I agree, education plays a large factor in a county’s success. Armenians are an industrious bright people and there should be no reason for them to lack a good education. We need more Armenian doctors and professionals.

One of the reasons why I think the enrollment overseas is low is language. Armenian is not a language that translates to the western alphabet so that in addition to learning language, Armenians have to learn the graphic characters. It is sad to think that other countries (won’t mention names) have a better chance at learning English due to their western alphabet.

Here’s what I think might help, if English is offered in Armenian public schools, this would help them make the transition on an international scale.

Second is funding. That’s another can of worms.

Any suggestions?