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EL quality analysis: Figuring Out The Future


The latest H.G. Wells-inspired British Council report, The Shape of International Education to 2025, drills into OECD and UN population division data and, with the collaboration of Oxford Economics, provides a forecast of international education demand over the next decade. The analysis is based on fifty-plus largest higher education markets.

Global education is affected by a variety of factors. The study primarily takes into consideration projected economic and population growth, and then other academic, economic, sociocultural and political factors that might affect student flow around the world.

One way to predict global education patterns is tracking income changes and the development of the global middle class. According to the OECD, the middle class can be found between a consumption range of $10–100 daily – in 2011 this was 1.7 billion people worldwide, but it is set to reach 4.9bn by 2030. The fastest riser is Asia, which in 2030 will make up 59 per cent of middle class spending.

The growth of tertiary-aged population – 18-to-22-year-olds – directly affects demand for higher education and global mobility. The fastest growth is expected to come from Africa, which will equal and then surpass Asia’s youth population from around 2078. The three fastest risers will be Nigeria, India and Indonesia, while China, Russia and Vietnam will see their share of 18-to-22-year-olds decrease.

By 2025, the study says, India will have the largest tertiary-aged population, followed by China, Indonesia, Nigeria, the US, Pakistan, Brazil, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Philippines and Russia. These countries, the study states, are ‘not only crucial in terms of student mobility but also international partnership and engagement’. The prediction is not too different from the reality: China will continue to be the biggest supplier of ELT students, followed by India, Nigeria, Germany and Saudi Arabia – others will be France, Turkey, South Korea and Pakistan. Traditional host countries such as the US, UK, Australia, Germany and Canada will also continue to welcome the largest numbers of students. However, their market share is threatened by a variety of factors – and the decline in the US and UK seems likely to continue.

Regional and transnational hubs and increasing local provision will disrupt the flow of students to English-speaking countries and further decrease traditional host countries’ market share. English as a medium of instruction is spreading, but lack of teacher training is sometimes still a problem. Among the economic factors, the cost of higher education is significantly higher in the UK, US and Australia compared to other destinations, but this doesn’t seem to deter students – currency fluctuations have a much greater impact. Immigration policies also play a crucial role. Ease in obtaining a visa, which has shown to have huge influence on host markets such as the UK or Australia in the past, and post-study work rights lead ‘in many cases, students’ decisions on where to enrol.’