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Following global flows


Claudia Civinini analyses the recently released Unesco figures on international tertiary-level mobile students.
Unesco has updated its data on global flows of students in tertiary education. Some of the most recent figures from their dataset are from 2015, while others are from 2014. Below we analyse the main source countries (where students come from) and destination countries (where they’re going), and then look at some specific markets.

The ten biggest senders of students in 2014 were – in descending order – China, India, Germany, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, France, the US, Kazakhstan, Nigeria and Malaysia. As can be seen in the graph below, China’s growth has been outstanding. This is reflected in its net flow of students (number of students in minus number out), which was -650,036 in 2014, making it the world’s largest exporter of students. Other source countries also show an impressive growth. Nigeria, with a 23 per cent increase from 2013, followed by Kazakhstan (23 per cent), India (12 per cent) and Saudi Arabia (11 per cent) are the markets showing the biggest increase. Germany and Korea, however, present a slight decrease in the number of students sent abroad.

The ten biggest receivers in 2014 (most recent data for the majority of them) were the US, UK, Australia, France, Russian Federation, Germany, Canada , Japan, China and Italy, followed closely by Saudi Arabia. The US is still at the top of the league, with almost twice as many international students as the UK. If we take into account data from the Open Doors report in 2016, the US has experienced a 33 per cent growth in three years (2013–16). Two other fast risers (we have 2015 data for them) are China and Saudi Arabia, with a percentage growth of 28 and 18 points respectively from 2013 to 2015.

If international students can be considered a commodity, then there are exporters and importers. Analysing the net flow of students – the number of incoming students minus the number of outgoing students – allows us to spot countries where the flow is positive (importers) and countries where it is negative (exporters). The ten biggest importers are the US, UK, Australia, Russian Federation, France, Japan, Germany, Canada, United Arab Emirates and Austria. Poland, Portugal, Turkey and Ukraine have now become importers from being exporters in the past. Topping the exporters is China, followed by India, Republic of Korea, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Morocco and Malaysia. None of these countries reports a positive flow of students in the period 1999–2015, although some of the data is missing.

The ten favourite destinations for Chinese students are the US, Australia, UK, Japan, Canada, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong (special administrative region of China), France, Germany and New Zealand. The US has registered an increase of 16 per cent from 2013–14, followed by New Zealand (14 per cent) and Germany (13 per cent). Nearby Macao and Hong Kong have grown fast: 18 and 13 per cent respectively over the same period. The only country that has experienced a decrease in the number of international students from China in that period is Japan, down 5 per cent.

International education has grown remarkably in the Arab states, with a growth of over 15 per cent over 2012–15. For most source countries, there are no figures before 2012 – only for Algeria and Egypt. What were the biggest senders in 2015 for the Arab States? The top ten sending countries for the region were Syria, Palestine, India, Yemen, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Iraq, Malaysia and Kuwait. Among the top twenty senders, most have experienced an impressive growth over the period. The most notable are Syria at 157 per cent and Kuwait at 116 per cent. Egypt, Nigeria and Sudan stand at about 70 per cent increase, Iraq and India at 65, Jordan and Pakistan at 55, Yemen, Palestine, Mali, Mauritania, Bahrain and Lebanon at 40–50. The only country that shows a decrease in the number of students sent to Arab states over the period is Iran, with a decrease of 17 percentage points.


International student presence has grown in Eastern and Central Europe too: 23 per cent growth over the 2012–14 period. The ten biggest senders for the area are Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Belarus, Ukraine, Slovakia, Azerbaijan, Republic of Moldova, Uzbekistan, China and Turkey. The largest chunk of students are local, coming from the same region. The second source region is Central Asia. Central and Eastern Europe is also getting increasing numbers of students from North America and Western Europe: there’s a 23 per cent increase in students coming from these region over the period 2012–14.

For more information, please see the Unesco Institute for Statistics’ page on Global Flow of Tertiary-Level Students: http://uis.unesco.org/en/uis-student-flow and its data centre: http://data.uis.unesco.org/