Policymakers should consider the benefits of short-term study-abroad programs, especially given the recent trend towards “shorter and closer” study abroad among Japanese students, said Hiroko Akiba, assistant professor at the Center for Global Education at Hitotsubashi University, a social sciences university in Tokyo.
A shift to shorter stints abroad
Akiba told a session at the European Association for International Education’s annual conference in Helsinki on 25 September:
Students are shifting to studying [abroad] for a few weeks from going for a semester or a year.
She said the number of Japanese students on short stints abroad – often in China, South Korea or Taiwan to gain academic credits – had risen significantly, with some 69,000 taking courses lasting less than one month in 2017, up from just under 17,000 in 2009. A further 21,000 enrolled on overseas courses of between one and three months’ duration in 2017, up from some 10,000 eight years earlier.
Everyone is asking how we balance the quality and quantity of study abroad opportunities, said Akiba, who gave warning that educators had now been challenged to prove that it is worthwhile for students to study abroad, even in the short term.
She told Times Higher Education:
Of course, [the government] wants to see students go abroad for the longer term, having seen how Chinese students have gone to the US, gained PhDs and stayed in America to build a research connection to the US. But the majority of those studying abroad are doing short English courses, often located elsewhere in Asia.
It was now a “critical time” for educators to demonstrate the improved learning outcomes linked to “shorter and closer” study abroad given the considerable scholarships and grants provided for such opportunities, said Akiba, noting that the status of this government support beyond 2020 was uncertain.
Trips need to be structured well
Robert Coelen, professor of the internationalization of higher education at NHL University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands, said that even one week’s study abroad was not a useless experience, but students would need a lot of preparation and integration before they go to get the most out of it. He recounted organizing a one-week expedition to Gambia for 17-year-olds, in which they were required to write a diary about how their stay had challenged them intellectually and emotionally. He said:
Solo flyers on short-term trips will get less out of it unless they are led by an experienced coach.
Those on shorter placements were less likely to undergo the transformative experience of having to adapt to unfamiliar surroundings, he added.
But even brief experiences could spark insights and build competencies among students, particularly if trips are structured properly, Professor Coelen said.
Sharing the experience with others is incredibly important.