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BMWs, Beer, and Education: Why Germany Makes University Know-How a Key Export

Like Germany’s auto industry, German higher education is keen to export its models.

Governments have long used higher education as a means for building relationships with foreign nations. The U.S. Agency for International Development and the Fulbright program have promoted American higher education abroad. Under the Colombo Plan of the 1950s, Australia started supporting academic exchanges and higher-education development across Asia. The British Council was developed in part as a means for facilitating cooperation among British institutions and foreign countries. And the German Academic Exchange Service, commonly known as DAAD, its initials in German, was founded after World War I to help the nation re-establish and build its foreign relations.

Such work, however, has been somewhat curtailed of late as Western governments have reduced funds for higher education, including money for international engagement. Yet Germany continues to view this type of overseas effort as an important investment in the nation’s economic success.

Over the past decade, the German government has supported the development of universities in Egypt, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Oman, Vietnam, and Turkey. These are not branch campuses or joint-degree programs. They were not set up as a means to find new revenue streams to support higher education. These are more like old-school development projects. They are a generous public-diplomacy effort by Germany to build the local educational capacity of a foreign country. And they enhance Germany’s economic competitiveness and the growth of its higher-education system.

This mutually beneficial approach is also evident with the iMOVE program, whose tagline is, “Training–Made in Germany.” Since 2001, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research has supported the International Marketing of Vocational Education program, or iMOVE, to promote German-style job training. iMOVE has held seminars and workshops  in China, Russia, India, and in several nations in the Middle East.

But the development of the new bi-national universities, which each follow a slightly different model, are perhaps the most noteworthy effort. For example, the Vietnamese-German University is a public institution jointly financed by the governments of both nations and a significant loan to the Vietnamese government from the World Bank. The king of Jordan championed the creation of the public German-Jordanian University. And the German University in Cairo is a collaboration between Germany and private investors in Egypt.

It is noteworthy that in an era when many American public institutions are engaging in cross-border educational activities as a means to raise revenue, the German government is actively investing in such programs.

It is easy to look at international education solely through the lens of making money—recruiting international students because they pay higher fees; foreign governments subsidizing the cost of overseas labs and other academic ventures; and universities looking to expand their share of the global education market. It is refreshing to find a case where a Western government considers cross-border higher education a self-interested investment in the nation.

Do you know of other governments that take such an approach to international higher education?

Note: An in-depth study of bi-national universities by Ute Lanzendorf, of the University of Kassel, is available to subscribers from the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education. And special thanks to DAAD, the Free University of Berlin, the Australian Group of Eight, and the Canadian Bureau for International Education/Embassy of Canada for inviting Jason to participate in the International Dialogue on Education Berlin, and the opportunity to learn about German approaches to cross-border higher education.

Follow us on Twitter @KevinKinser and @ProfJasonLane.

[Creative Commons Wikimedia graphic by Orzolo]

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