A more complex marketplace taking shape for 2012

A pair of recent articles from University World News point to an increasingly complex and shifting international education marketplace for 2012.

The first, “Confusion, contradictions in student mobility,” notes that while a number of sources are reporting continued strong increases in international student numbers there are nevertheless a number of important shifts taking place.

Among other developments, the piece notes that Australia’s market position has weakened after a year of mounting bad publicity and more restrictive visa regulations.

The UK faces similar challenges due to increases in tuition fees and stiffening visa requirements. Higher education institutions in the US are in the midst of a vigorous debate as to the ethics of using agents in international recruitment. And swirling above it all is the uncertainty of continuing economic crisis worldwide.

The article poses a number of challenging questions for the international education market in 2012 and is well worth a closer read.

The second piece from University World News, “International student choices changing,” describes how the distribution of the global population of international students has changed over the past decade and points to “a continued shift from the dominance of a few countries to the emergence of many host destinations around the world.”

This recalls a feature piece we published last year in the ICEF Bulletin and we’ve taken the opportunity to present this earlier feature below as the latest installment in our occasional series of articles from our archives.

Competition Intensifies to Woo International Students

“Something big is happening…Making the most of human capital—a key to competitiveness and prosperity—is more and more the work of globalized universities competing for the best thinkers and the best ideas.”
— The Wall Street Journal, May 2010

The world’s population of international students grew dramatically over the last ten years. And the forecasts are for continuing, strong growth in the years ahead.

At the same time, the competition to recruit those students is heating up—to the point that global student mobility patterns are being affected. New competitors are emerging and students are going to a wider range of study destinations than in the past.

The UNESCO Institute of Statistics reports the number of students studying outside of their home countries increased by 57% between 1999 and 2009. UNESCO currently estimates there are now three million international students worldwide. Even more impressive: these figures count tertiary, or higher education, enrolments only—meaning that the total international student population is considerably larger (likely double again or more) once vocational, secondary, and language programmes are factored in.

What is behind this dramatic growth? In his recently published book The Great Brain Race, US expert Ben Wildavsky argues that the global drive to build knowledge-based economies is a major factor as is “the financial attraction for many Western universities of overseas students who pay full freight.”

It will surprise no one that the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada are the historical—and current—market leaders among the world’s study destinations. The cultural and economic impacts in each of these countries are profound—in the US alone, international student enrolments contribute US$18 billion to the national economy every year.

Meanwhile, major moves are afoot outside of this leadership group as new competitors assert themselves in the global education market. China, in particular, has presided over the largest expansion of post-secondary education in the history of the world.

Similarly, both India and Saudi Arabia have made multi-billion dollar investments in their domestic education system in recent years. Investments on this scale have the effect both of boosting the capacity of these countries to serve their domestic students and to attract international students.

Other countries, Hong Kong and Japan among them, have publicly announced bold plans to dramatically increase their international student numbers. Hong Kong, for example, is moving away from its traditional British-influenced system of three-year degrees to four-year degrees more commonly found in the US. This shift, and further accompanying changes in both secondary and post-secondary systems in Hong Kong, is part of a larger goal to nearly double the territory’s global share of the international student market.

With all of these moves afoot, it should come as no surprise that the world’s population of international students is now spread among a larger number of countries than it was ten years ago. “Students today,” reports UNESCO, “Are expanding their range of destinations. In 1999, one in four students chose to study in the United States while this was true for only one in five students in 2007…Meanwhile, Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan and South Africa not only remained popular destinations but saw their shares of mobile students grow. Countries that have emerged among the top host countries include China, the Republic of Korea and New Zealand.”


The University of Hong Kong

There is also increasing evidence that international students are staying within their home regions to a greater extent than in the past. The percentage of Latin American students, for example, remaining within the region increased from 11% in 1999 to 23% in 2007. Similarly, the percentage of mobile East Asian students studying within the region rose from 36% to 42% over the same period.

These values are significant in part as both regions—Asia in particular—are major sources of international students. China continues to account for the largest number of students studying abroad (more than 420,000 in 2007), with India, Korea, Germany, France, and Russia also among the top ten source countries.

There are some clear implications of these changing mobility patterns for both educators and agents. The competitive field is changing and expanding worldwide and traditional destinations will now have to compete harder, particularly against emerging regional hubs that are successfully drawing larger numbers of students today and positioning themselves for aggressive growth in the future. This is a marketplace that increasingly relies on imaginative new strategies and tactics and—as always—on strong working relationships with effective partners worldwide.

Industry observers predict that these patterns will persist in the years ahead. As national economies continue to recover from the recent financial crisis, governments are struggling with mounting debt loads and the need to balance budgets. This in turn places additional funding pressure on universities and colleges and helps to fuel their interest in international student recruitment. Whether driven by financial imperatives or otherwise, it seems clear that competition for international students will likely continue to intensify for the foreseeable future.



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