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International education booming

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Claudia Civinini analyses the recent Open Doors report and tracks the remarkable growth in the number of international students in the US

Student mobility ‘has increased dramatically over the recent past’, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report Education at a Glance. With the number of international students worldwide increasing by 50 per cent in the 2005–12 period, the industry seems be enjoying a record-breaking period.

This is echoed by Open Doors, the annual statistical report on international students in the US conducted by the Institute of International Education since 1919, which reveals that the country’s colleges and universities are hosting 73 per cent more international students than a decade ago. The report was released in November by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Not only was the past academic year the ninth consecutive year of steady growth, but it also registered the highest growth rate in 35 years, bringing up international student numbers to an unprecedented 927,926 – a 10 per cent increase from 2013–14. The US reconfirms its role as a leading destination for international students, hosting almost double the number hosted by the UK. However, the OECD warns that its market share is declining, with competitors such as Japan and some European countries picking up, Icef Monitor reports.

China, India and Brazil accounted for most of the growth in international student numbers. While China is still the top sending country (31 per cent of the total), India and Brazil registered a higher growth rate in the 2013–15 period, 29 per cent and 78 per cent respectively. Brazil has become the sixth-biggest sending country, a position that could be at risk now that government scholarship scheme Science Without Borders has been frozen for the next academic year.

Other source markets which experienced significant growth were Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Mexico, Iran, Nigeria, Kuwait and Venezuela. A small decrease in the international student influx was noted from South Korea, Canada, Taiwan and Japan.

Reversing a four-year trend, the total number of postgraduates grew faster than undergraduates, a pattern most clearly visible from India, Kuwait and Vietnam’s figures. China, however, sent three times as many undergraduates as postgraduates – with Chinese undergraduate numbers overtaking the Chinese postgrad total for the first time.

Figure 1: % increase of top 20 US source markets 2013–15

2014–15 also saw a surge in non-degree students – up 18 per cent from the previous year. This is especially evident in countries like Brazil and Mexico, registering impressive growth of 174 and 228 per cent respectively. The category of ‘non-degree’ is diverse, including exchange and EFL students. Of the 93,587 total non-degree students, 47,170 were enrolled in intensive English programmes, and this particular group experienced an overall growth of 11 per cent from last year.

California, New York and Texas were the top three hosting states, and New York University, the University of South California and Columbia University were the top three hosting institutions. According to an analysis of Open Doors by the Chronicle of Higher Education, international student growth is not shared equally by all institutions, with just a tenth accounting for nearly 70 per cent of the surge in enrolments. This could make international institutions more reliant on foreign tuition fees, thus exposing them to changing economic trends. Meanwhile, the rest of the colleges are missing out on the positive aspects of internationalisation – not just the $30 billion boost to the economy but also an important contribution to scientific and technical research and the creation of long-term business relationships.

Overseas students also bring an international perspective that helps US students prepare for global careers – a crucial contribution, since Open Doors reports that only 10 per cent of US students graduate with international experience. This is however an all-time high, with 304,476 studying abroad in 2013–14. The region experiencing the largest growth in US student numbers is Latin America and the Caribbean, but the top three destinations for US students remain the UK, Italy and Spain, accounting for roughly 30 per cent of the total.