October 1, 2023

Foreign providers in the Caribbean: pillagers or preceptors?

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Caribbean_general_mapFrom Eldis

Cross-border higher education in the Caribbean

Are the foreign providers of education in the Caribbean pillagers or preceptors? This collaborative paper addresses the growing phenomenon of cross-border higher education (CBHE), specifically on the trends of CBHE in the Caribbean. Looking at whether foreign providers in the Caribbean pillagers or preceptors, it includes at a total of nine case studies on the subject.

All the territories discussed face problems identified as being peculiar to small, developing countries. Their challenges include: remoteness and insularity; limited diversification due to poor resource endowment or exploitation and a small domestic market; a limited private sector; reliance on very few primary export products; and limited industrialisation and a heavy reliance on imports. Despite the increased number of tertiary institutions in the Caribbean region and the growing use of distance education, especially as provided through the use of ICTs, the supply of tertiary education has not been sufficient to meet the rising demand. In addition to the indigenous public providers, the tertiary landscape is increasingly being populated by private and external providers who use a diversity of methods in their offerings.

Key points arising from the case studies include:

Barbados: currently, external tertiary education provision in Barbados occurs only with formal assistance from local educational institutions

Belize: like other developing countries seeking to escape the “shackles of their colonial heritage,” the country cannot implement a human resource development strategy without major fiscal investment

British Virgin Islands: while the influx of external tertiary providers into the Caribbean region is not considered a threat at present, it is recognised as an area of concern for which preparation is needed

Cayman islands: many of the issues and concerns at the centre of debate on education are explained and illustrated by the islands’ history. But Cayman today does not stand apart from other Caribbean islands, or indeed the global arena, when it comes to ease and diversity of access to tertiary education.

For more on this story go to: http://eldis.org/go/home&id=39673&type=Document#.U-jYClZ-SH8

NOTE: The link for the full report on the website does not appear to be working.


Related story:

Globalization and cross-border education:

Challenges for the development of higher education in Commonwealth countries

By N.V. Varghese

NOTE: The following is an EXCERPT only. See link at end to download full copy

Commonwealth countries vary widely in terms of their size and level of development. A few of them are developed countries with massified systems of higher education, whereas the majority of them are developing countries – some have a small but expanding higher education sector, some share the facilities of a university located in another country, and some do not have a university of their own and rely on cross-border provisions of higher education. This paper argues that the emergence of the knowledge economy and the resultant demand for skills have necessitated an expansion of higher education in all countries, encouraged skill migration from developing to developed countries, and promoted cross-border education (i.e. the mobility of students, institutions, and programmes). These changes also saw an end to an era when national public institutions alone provided higher education. The private sector and cross-border institutions are expanding fast and increasing their share in enrolment in higher education. In the process, the burden of financing higher education has shifted from the public to the household domain. The proliferation of institutions and programmes has given rise to problems related to the quality of higher education. Although governments have created national accreditation agencies, quality remains a serious issue in many countries. The major challenge lies in developing strategies to expand higher education while devising measures to ensure equity and quality. The role of the state remains important in developing policies to promote equity, guaranteeing quality, and regulating the operation of multiple agencies that offer higher education. This regulatory role of the state continues to increase even when its role in financing higher education may be on the decline.

Commonwealth countries vary widely in terms of their size and level of development. Among the 52 member states, national populations vary from 10,000 in Tuvalu to 1.1 billion in India. While some are developed countries, most are developing countries. The developed countries have massified systems of higher education, whereas many of the developing countries have a small but expanding higher education sector. Some of the small states do not have universities of their own and therefore share the facilities of a university, either within or outside their region, for their higher education provision.

Despite this level of diversity, two factors seem to be common among Commonwealth countries: the dominant role of public institutions in higher education development, and English being the language of instruction. The fiscal capacity of the state to fund and expand higher education through public institutions has become uncertain in recent years. The use of and reliance on English as the language for academic interactions continues to be encouraged. The latter factor has become even more relevant in the context of globalization, in which the English language enjoys a premium. In the initial years at the end of colonization, the state and public institutions played an important role in economic and educational development. Higher education was publicly funded, and graduates were employed in the public sector. Nowadays, the private sector has become an important player in economic development, in employment generation and in the provision of higher education. The liberalization policies adopted by many governments in the Commonwealth in the context of globalization promoted the role of the market and facilitated the cross-border flow of goods, services, and factors of production.

The higher education sector not only supported globalization, but also became globalized in the process. The cross-border mobility of institutions, programmes, students, and teachers helped in globalizing higher education. The private sector, cross-border providers, and technology-based modes of delivery changed the landscape of higher education and made it a marketable service across countries. The multiplicity of providers and the proliferation of programmes have brought issues related to the quality of provision, teaching/learning processes and products to the forefront.

This paper discusses the changes taking place in the higher education sector in Commonwealth countries and the challenges they face in their efforts to shape their higher education systems for the future. It will first discuss the increasing demand for skills in knowledge economies and the need for an expanded higher education sector, before going on (in Section 3) to examine trends in the expansion of higher education in Commonwealth countries. It will then analyse the globalization of higher education in Commonwealth countries, focusing on the cross-border mobility of students, institutions, and programmes, in Section 4. Section 5 will deal with issues related to quality assurance in higher education; and the final section will discuss the challenges facing higher education development in Commonwealth countries.

Globalization, technological changes, the rise of the knowledge economy, and changing skill requirements in the labour market seem to influence changes in the landscape of higher education, not just in Commonwealth countries but worldwide. Since the emergence of these phenomena, knowledge-based sectors have become the primary drivers of growth, and the demand for skills and higher education qualifications is on the rise. The move towards a knowledge economy has been characterized by a change in the pattern of deployment of the labour force and an increase in the knowledge content of products. Knowledge economies have experienced a migration of workers from manufacturing activities to service sector activities, making the latter a dominant sector both in terms of level of employment and income generated. The share of the labour force engaged in service sector occupations doubled or trebled in knowledge economies in the 1990s (World Bank, 1999).

The quantity of knowledge embedded in the goods produced and exported has increased considerably (World Bank, 1999). While the knowledge content has increased, the goods have become, as it were, lighter in weight – in fact, ‘weightless’ – facilitating their exportation. Knowledge economies engage in knowledge production (R&D) and in the production of knowledge-based goods. Investment in knowledge production is financially rewarding to firms, increases national income, and helps maintain the potential for growth and national competitiveness for the future (Chen and Dahlman, 2004). While returns to investments in knowledge-based production may be achieved in the short term, those from investments in research and development (R&D) activities may only be realized in the long term.

Knowledge economies require people with theoretical knowledge to promote research activities, with professional skills to develop production, and with technical skills to produce and support production. These skills correspond to a level of education imparted in universities and institutions of higher education. The International Labour Organization (ILO, 2004) estimated that, in some knowledge economies, nearly 70 per cent of all new jobs require a post-secondary level of education. While the more advanced countries have universalized school education and massified, if not universalized, higher education, most of the Commonwealth countries are far from reaching this target. Further, it has become essential that the developing countries expand their higher education sector if they are to catch up with the technological advances of other countries and accelerate their economic growth ( World Bank, 2009). In other words, for developing countries, higher education expansion is becoming a prerequisite for progress towards a knowledge economy.

The quantity of skills required has outstripped the capacity of the existing higher education institutions to produce them, even in countries that have the largest networks of higher education institutions. The choice for these countries was either to expand the capacity of their higher education systems to produce these skills domestically, or to import skills from the global market. While the former may be a desirable option in the long run, it would require heavy investment and take some time to build the necessary infrastructure. Thus these countries have preferred a more immediate, ready-made solution and encouraged skill migration, especially from developing countries, leading to a ‘global hunt’ for talent (Kapur and McHale, 2005).

Many developed countries have thus made it easier for highly skilled workers to obtain a visa, with the aim of boosting skill migration. For example, the introduction of the H1B visa in the United States (USA) helped to attract skilled workers, especially from Asia. Nearly 1 million highly skilled workers entered the USA under the H1B visa between 2000 and 2003 (Kapur and McHale, 2005). The European Union is introducing the Blue Card visa to attract skilled workers from developing countries. Countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom (UK) have introduced point-based migration policies that give preferential treatment to candidates with higher-level qualifications.

Even so, it seems that the level of migration has not been sufficient to meet global demands. Further, the quality of the skills possessed by migrants has not always been at the level demanded by the production sectors. This called for a greater output of skilled workers, either domestically or abroad, from institutions with established credibility to assure quality. Attention, therefore, turned to cross-border education, to alternatives such as institutions of higher education in developed countries (student mobility), certified institutions/branch campuses in developing countries (institutional mobility), or distance modes of education (programme mobility), which proved to be reliable in ensuring quality.

The cross-border mobility of students was encouraged, especially since it was found that a majority of those who entered OECD countries as students would stay there after their studies. For example, it was found that nearly 90 per cent of Chinese and Indian doctorate students in the USA did not return home after their studies. It is clear from this that, in many developed countries, cross-border education has become fertile ground for recruiting future highly skilled workers (Tremblay, 2002). In addition, there were institutions and corporations willing to invest in cross-border institutions or programmes as profit-making ventures. The private sector and transnational institutions play an important role in this mode of cross-border skill development, which relies more on individual than on state funding. In other words, cross-border education has helped transfer the cost of skill development from the public to the individual domain, and was also a necessary condition for the expansion of market operations in this area.

Commonwealth member countries are so diverse that it is difficult to provide a general overall picture of higher education. The Commonwealth includes large and small countries, rich and poor, remote islands and mainland countries. The total population of the 52 countries constituting the Commonwealth amounts to nearly 2 billion – nearly one-third of the world’s population. Forty-four of the 52 Commonwealth states are developing countries, while the remainder are economically advanced. Thirty-two of them are small states and 23 have a population of less than 1 million. These factors, which contribute to diversity, greatly influence the shaping of higher education systems in the Commonwealth.

Some of the countries are too small to make a university a viable entity. For example, two universities – the University of the South Pacific (USP), Laucala, Fiji, and the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, Jamaica – serve more than half the countries of the Commonwealth. USP is jointly owned by the governments of 12 island countries of the Pacific region with branch campuses in all of the member countries. The University of the West Indies serves 15 countries in the English-speaking Caribbean region, also with branch campuses in all of its member countries. Many of the 27 countries that are served by these two universities do not dispose of a university on their own territory, although they may have non-university tertiary institutions. Many students from islands and small countries pursue their higher education abroad and are thus included in the enrolment figures of the universities abroad.

At the other end of the scale, the larger countries – such as India, with a population exceeding the billion mark; Pakistan, and Bangladesh, with over 150 million population each; and Nigeria with a population of around 130 million – have several universities. Furthermore, countries such as Australia, Canada, South Africa, and the UK, although smaller than the above-mentioned large countries, also have large numbers of universities. The Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) consists of nearly 500 universities (Kubler and Tarrant, 2008), which is, even so, less than the total number of universities in the Commonwealth.

One of the features of higher education is that it is a sector that is expanding in all regions of the world. Between 1991 and 2006, the number of students enrolled in higher education institutions worldwide more than doubled, from 68 to 143.9 million students (UNESCO–UIS,

2008). The gross enrolment rate (GER) increased from 13.8 to 25 per cent during this period. However, this expansion of higher education was uneven between regions. For example, the fastest growing region was the East Asia and Pacific region, home to more than one-third of Commonwealth countries, where the GER more than tripled to 25 per cent. The lowest GER of

5 per cent is in the Africa region, which also constitutes a third of the Commonwealth countries.

This paper, which provides a detailed discussion on the expansion of higher education in the Commonwealth countries, is restricted to the 21 large states that have universities and higher education institutions and for which information is readily available. Table 3.1 shows the trends in the expansion of higher education over the past two decades in these 21 states.

Trends show that the developed countries of the Commonwealth – such as Australia, Canada, the UK – were not only already more advanced in higher education enrolments, but also further expanded their higher education systems very rapidly between 1985 and 1995. A closer examination of this trend reveals that this expansion was most marked in the early 1990s when enrolment ratios almost doubled. After this rapid expansion in the first decade, enrolment ratios in these countries stabilized or declined in the second decade (1995–2006) and thereafter. The trend was somewhat the reverse in the developing countries of the Commonwealth, with a relative stagnation from 1985 to 1995, followed by an acceleration during the decade 1995–2006, although many of them still continue to have relatively low enrolment ratios. In some of the advanced countries and in South Africa, however, the GER declined during the same period.

On the basis of these trends in the expansion of the system, one can distinguish three categories of countries in the Commonwealth:

  1. countries with an extensive higher education system and a stagnating or declining GER in the current decade (e.g. Australia, Canada, South Africa, UK);

2.     countries where the GER is rapidly increasing (e.g. Ghana, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Tanzania, although it is still extremely low in all countries except Malaysia and New Zealand);

  1. countries where the GER is low and expansion is relatively slow (e.g. Bangladesh, Kenya, Malawi).

It can be noted that this rapid expansion of higher education in Commonwealth countries first happened in the developed countries, followed by developing countries a decade later. This may be partly due to the fact that the demand for the skills required for the knowledge economy and the pressure to expand higher education were felt first in the developed countries. It was universal formal education in developed countries that exerted pressure on the higher education system to expand. At a later period, these same factors played a similar role in the expansion of the higher education systems in developing countries. It may be equally plausible to argue that, among the developing countries of the Commonwealth, those experiencing globalization have undergone a more rapid expansion of their higher education sector.

The expansion of higher education seems to have been faster in those developing countries of the Commonwealth that have a strong private sector. Many countries introduced laws in the 1990s permitting the operation of private and transnational institutions of higher education, and many such institutions were established during the past decade. It seems that rapid expansion in these countries was dependant on non-state resources, highlighting the association between globalization, markets, and the expansion of higher education, even in developing countries.

Modes of cross-border mobility

Cross-border mobility is a means of globalizing higher education. Two factors seem to have contributed positively to the process of globalizing higher education in Commonwealth countries. First, the fact that many Commonwealth countries provide instruction in English facilitates the process of enrolling in courses in other countries for many students. Since the English language enjoys a premium on the global labour market, individuals are more than willing to invest in courses offered in this language. Thus, the language factor is an added advantage in promoting cross-border mobility within Commonwealth countries.

Second, many Commonwealth countries moved away from publicly funded higher education towards market-oriented higher education. Many countries diversified their tertiary education systems and permitted the operation of private-sector establishments and cross-border institutions. With the expansion of the higher education market, private and cross-border providers have become numerous, selling courses and study programmes to foreign students. The deregulation policy measures and the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) helped ensure the continuation of cross-border education in Commonwealth countries (Kubler and Lennon, 2008).

GATS covers all internationally traded services, including education. Within the education sector, GATS covers five education service categories: primary, secondary, higher, adult, and

‘other’. Cross-border education under the GATS framework can be delivered through one of four modes (Knight, 2002):

  1. cross-border supply, where services are transmitted across borders (e.g. distance education programmes);

2.     consumption abroad, where the consumers (students) cross the border to pursue studies;

  1. the commercial presence of the provider, where service suppliers cross borders to deliver the services on-site (e.g. branch campuses or twinning and franchising arrangements); and
  2. the presence of individual persons, where an individual crosses borders to provide the service (e.g. staff mobility).


Although cross-border higher education among Commonwealth countries takes place through all four modes, this paper will concentrate on the first three modes – cross-border mobility of students, programmes, and institutions.

Challenges facing higher education development in Commonwealth countries

There are broadly three categories of Commonwealth countries with regard to higher education: (1) advanced countries with massified higher education systems, (2) developing countries with less-developed but quickly expanding systems of higher education, and (3) small states without a university of their own. The need to expand opportunities may be equally important to the latter two categories, and ensuring the quality of higher education may be a common interest of all countries in all categories.

The first challenge facing developing countries and small states is how to expand the higher education system. It is becoming increasingly clear that expansion of higher education through public institutions has its limitations, given the fiscal capacity of the state. The option then is to expand higher education relying on non-state resources. This implies: (1) privatizing public institutions of higher education, (2) promoting private higher education, (3) encouraging cross-border providers, and (4) expanding opportunities for distance learning – the promotion of e-learning.

The privatization of public institutions implies the adoption of market principles in the operation of public institutions of higher education. Cost-recovery methods are examples of this strategy. Many countries in Africa have adopted the pattern of a dual-track system, where one group of students is supported by the state and receives subsidized education, while another group pays for its education. This has been a successful strategy to expand higher education through public institutions in many countries. In fact, in many cases the number of students sponsored by the government increased marginally, while the number of fee-paying students increased substantially. In universities such as Makerere in Uganda, nearly 80 per cent of the students in the public university are private (fee paying). The challenge is how to introduce cost-recovery methods, since experience shows that such efforts are resisted in many instances.

Private higher education has become a common phenomenon in many countries. The actual number of such institutions sometimes surpasses the number of public institutions, although, in terms of enrolment, public institutions still account for the largest share and accommodate the majority of students. However, it is important to note that the share of the private sector in enrolment is increasing in many countries, reaching nearly one-third of the total enrolment.

There are different types of transnational providers. Some are private institutions in the host and sending countries; some consist of a public institution in the sending country and a private institution in the host country; and some operate in collaboration with domestic institutions of higher education, especially private institutions.

Both private and cross-border institutions levy fees from students. The amount of fees depends on the type of institution. There are two types of private and cross-border institutions

– for-profit and not-for-profit institutions. It is important to avoid the commercialization of higher education by these institutions, and there is a need to regulate the opening and operation of private and cross-border institutions ( Varghese, 2009). The challenge lies in developing mechanisms to regulate these institutions.

The open and distance-learning systems have widened the scope for expanding higher education. Technological advances and their availability have provided opportunities for people to follow programmes of study and courses at their own pace. This is a particularly important mode for expanding higher education in small states. Higher education through this mode is less expensive than the face-to-face mode. The major challenge will be to ensure the availability of the technology to people who would like to pursue higher education through this mode.

All of these modes of expanding higher education anticipate a transfer of the financial burden to individuals and households. However, this does not mean that the state will cease to fund higher education; it will continue to do so as far as possible. However, the opportunities to pursue higher education will not be limited by the fiscal capacity of the state and its willingness to fund students.


There is a need to introduce student-support systems as part of the cost-recovery or private-sector operations. Student loans will be offered to students to help cover their fees and living expenses. The student-loan schemes introduced in many countries in the 1970s were not a success. However, the new initiatives in student loans seem to be working. Unlike in the past, when loans were given by the government, these loans are more often offered by banks and other commercial organizations. The challenge is not to distribute loans to students, but to keep track of them and recover them when the students have finished their studies. In some developing countries, the cost of recovering loans exceeds the amount recovered, and the government has almost abandoned the idea of recovering them altogether.

It is important to ensure equity while the higher education system expands. Cost-recovery measures are not equity-friendly. There is a need to ensure that the interests of those from economically poorer backgrounds and socially disadvantaged groups are protected. Public financial intervention targeting students from these groups may be necessary to maintain equity in the system.

An equally important area is ensuring the quality of the higher education imparted. There is a need for regulation to ensure quality at all stages. This is more essential in the context of the proliferation of institutions and programmes, especially through private and transnational providers. Permission to own and operate a private or cross-border institution needs to be granted after the minimum facilities and conditions are guaranteed. There are instances of fraud in the operation of transnational providers (Hallak and Poisson, 2007). Some cross-border providers are found to be of dubious quality, with bogus institutions and fake degrees. Some such institutions automatically increase their fees every year. However, some national authorities stipulate the regulations on fees, and prohibit cross-border or private providers from raising tuition fees without their prior approval.

Nowadays, many countries involved in cross-border higher education insist that foreign institutions must already be accredited in their country of origin before they are granted permission to operate in the host country.

Table 3.1

To read the whole report go to: http://www.icde.org/filestore/Resources/Reports/UNESCOGlobalizationcross-bordereducation.pdf

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