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Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) once said that “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” Reminiscent of this philosophy are those individuals from around the world who capitalise on the opportunities available in the Balkans to become immersed in their chosen fields of higher learning as well as regional culture, thereby mastering specialised skills while forging new alliances, enhancing cross-cultural understanding and creating unforgettable memories of time well spent.
A wide range of subjects including languages, history, art, psychology, political science, hotel management, international relations, agriculture, chemistry, medicine and business administration, are on offer to those who are interested in seeking advanced training, earning a degree, gaining academic credit for transfer to a student’s home university, or simply pursuing a life-long dream of studying in one of the Balkan countries. And while there are many different types of educational opportunities on offer, all foreign students have an opportunity to broaden their horizons, network with people who share their interests, and gain an advantage in pursuing international employment opportunities.
Balkan countries that are members of the European Union (EU) host foreign students in conjunction with certain available EU programmes. As a well-established world centre of excellence in higher education and training and in response to the economic globalisation of labour markets, the EU has developed a wide range of initiatives including policies, bilateral agreements and programmes that support foreign student mobility, scholarships, access to labour markets to defray educational expenses, and the establishment of international networks among universities and alumni, based in part on a platform provided by European Council Directive 2004/114/EC (also known as the Student Directive). The number of international students seeking EU institutions of higher education to enhance their professional skills has been on the rise for many years. According to a July 2013 report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), nearly 4.3 million students worldwide were then enrolled in university education outside their home country with Europe leading as the top destination hosting 48% of these students.
Other Balkan countries have also made significant investments in developing an international student population. For example, in 2012 the Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEİK) Business Education Council in Turkey reported that 31,170 foreign nationals from 155 countries were studying in the country which has 175 universities and participates in the European Union Erasmus+ student exchange programme involving 33 countries. In another example based on the 2013 Deloitte country profile report, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has signed bilateral agreements for education, science and technological development with 20 countries, 10 of which are in the EU such as France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Spain and the non-EU countries include China, Japan, Israel, Russia, Turkey, Egypt and the U.S.
The direct financial benefits to the host country include expenses associated with university fees, housing, school supplies, meals and transportation. Indirect economic benefits accrue from consumer behaviour (such as consumer product brand loyalty developed during the student’s university tenure) as well as the potential for a student’s future investment in the country through professional networking and business associations based on the student’s familiarity with the host country’s people, systems, politics, government and business culture. This, in turn, expands the host country’s influence on the world stage.
Foreign educational opportunities have proven to be mutually beneficial for the students as well as the host countries as international students contribute to the local and national economies, frequently join the labour market following graduation and promote international trade as well as diplomacy. Viewed from a much wider perspective, many of the foreign students – along with the nationals whose lives they touched – continue during their lifetime to manifest the benefits of enhanced cross cultural understanding in their professional, social and political activities to which their educational experience contributed … thereby echoing Aristotle’s wisdom from 2,000 years ago.