Last month in Rome, I attended an international meeting focused on increasing academic mobility by making it easier for individuals to use their college degrees in other countries. The annual meeting of the European Network of Information Centers (ENIC) draws participants from 55 countries, as well as representatives from UNESCO and the Council of Europe.
You may not have heard about "academic mobility" before, but it's actually nothing new. From the time of the first universities in medieval Europe, students and scholars have traveled great distances and crossed borders to engage in academic pursuits. But what makes academic mobility such a prominent issue today is its scale and rate of growth.
The demand for higher education in many countries has increased significantly, while the number of international students worldwide also continues to grow, rising from 2.5 million in 2004 to 3.6 million in 2010. And for all students earning academic credit or degrees abroad, ensuring that those credentials will be recognized when they return home is critical to their future prospects for employment or further study.
Years ago, just after graduating from college, I spent an additional year studying in Buenos Aires, Argentina. As is the case with most students who go abroad, immersion in another language and culture was a life-changing experience. I didn't realize it at the time, but not only was I starting down a path toward a career in international education, I was also engaging in something called academic mobility.
Today, as the U.S. representative to the ENIC network, I provide information to counterparts in other countries to help in their evaluation of U.S. credentials, including those that are less well known outside of the United States—like associate degrees and industry-based certifications. I also respond to inquiries from U.S. graduates wishing to work or pursue graduate studies abroad and to questions from foreign-educated graduates planning to work or go to graduate school in the United States.
But the recognition of degrees is just one aspect of academic mobility. Academic mobility comprises all cross-border education activities that involve the movement of people, programs or institutions. And as globalization continues and higher education evolves along with it, academic mobility is becoming a topic of increasing relevance.
Today, I understand the benefits of academic mobility from professional as well as personal experience. And now more than ever, events and challenges around the world affect all of us on a day-to-day basis. That's why I'm passionate about working with my international colleagues to help students expand their horizons through study abroad and to facilitate the recognition of degrees and other credentials. Academic mobility helps create more globally competent citizens with the 21st century skills that every nation – and the world as a whole – needs.
Rafael Nevárez is an International Education Specialist in the International Affairs Office. He serves as U.S. representative to the European Network of Information Centers (ENIC) and as a vice president on its steering committee, the ENIC Bureau.