What determines growth rates in global higher education enrolments?

A new British Council study, The Shape of Things to Come: Higher education global trends and emerging opportunities to 2020, has recently become available in its entirety. The study points to the importance of demographic and economic trends in determining worldwide growth rates in higher education participation. It aims to identify the most significant emerging markets for international students and the fastest growing education systems, as well as predicting which countries’ systems will be most open for international collaboration in teaching and research.

In mid-March, ICEF Monitor offered a preview of the findings. The story told in the report is one of continued growth in global higher education enrolments and so in international student enrolments as well. However, the British Council report anticipates slower growth for the decade ahead, particularly in comparison to the dramatic growth of the previous two decades.

But these forecasts could be greatly affected by the political or economic ambitions of some of the major source countries in the study sample. Economists have established a clear correlation between growing economies and increasing participation rates.

In the end, the actual growth rates in global higher education enrolments will likely be largely determined by political and social goals, economic growth, and prevailing demographic trends with regard to school-age students.

It comes as no surprise then, that the global education market is shifting away from the ‘Western concept’ of recruiting students from countries with less established higher education systems. “It is possible in the long run that countries like China, Singapore, Malaysia and some Gulf States will become the fastest growing study destinations,” the report says.

A new emphasis on mutually beneficial collaboration in teaching and research, the setting up of overseas campuses, joint ventures to create new institutions on foreign soil, and online courses are broadening the concept of internationalisation and presenting new market opportunities.

Universities must be ready to quickly re-balance their international activities, and must be backed by supportive government policies and research-funding mechanisms.

Additional observations are highlighted below, courtesy of British Council and University World News.

Country by country outlook

The major origin countries for internationally mobile students include China, India, South Korea, Germany, Turkey and France. However, while China and India together account for 29% of global tertiary enrolments they contribute only 21% of the international students, the report says.

Globally outbound mobility varies wildly from 50% in Botswana to below 1% for the UK, US, Australia, Russia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Egypt and Brazil.

Singapore, Ireland, Nepal, UAE and South Korea have above-global-average outbound mobility ratios, as do many European countries due to high mobility within Europe.

Currently, most international students are studying in a relatively small group of countries. The US, UK, Australia, France, Germany, Russia, Japan and Canada together host 60%.

But other countries are playing an increasingly important destination role at a regional level: South Africa (for Sub-Saharan Africa); Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia (for South East Asia); and South Korea (for North East Asia).

In addition, China, Malaysia and India are expected to be among the top 10 host countries in absolute numbers by 2020.

The report predicts that some Asian and Gulf State countries will play an increasingly important role as education hubs attracting increasing numbers of international students, in direct competition with traditional destination countries.

Recognition of this trend is “critical for understanding how the global higher education landscape will look in 2020.”

The report says a notable development is that student flows from China to the US, Japan and the UK; Japan to the US; and Greece to the UK, are predicted to fall most sharply in absolute terms.

“Markets with rising tuition fees are also likely to see declines in inbound student flows.”

By contrast, the largest absolute rises in outbound students are forecasted from India to Australia, the UK and US; China to Australia; and Nigeria to the UK.

In Europe, factors contributing to shifts between countries include changing policies on tuition fees and the trend towards increasing the number of postgraduate courses taught in English, which is making non-English speaking countries more attractive.

Research collaborations

One factor which is increasingly determining countries’ international relevance is the impact of their research base. This study found that 80% of countries’ research impact is determined by their research collaboration rate. The report says that about a third of all academic research produced globally is already carried out through international collaboration – and this is expected to increase. In addition, Nobel prizes are increasingly won by researchers working in a country other than their country of birth. Over 60% of the winners in 2010 and 2011 had studied or carried out research abroad.

The report echos findings from the Universitas 21 report which ranked the ‘best’ countries at providing higher education and outlined which countries are the most prominent in international research collaboration.

Furthermore, multinational companies will increasingly be looking for international research partners, with companies in the US, Europe, India and Latin America presenting the best prospects, says the report.

In particular, universities should look to collaborate with countries leading on internationally filed patent applications (i.e., the US, China, Japan and South Korea); those with the highest rates of commercial joint-working (i.e., India, Australia and Brazil); and those involving smaller, research-intensive countries that excel in niche technological growth markets (i.e., Switzerland, the Nordic countries and Israel), and have research citation impact significantly above the world average.

Pay attention to the role of emerging economies. Parallel to their growing importance to world trade, they are becoming increasingly popular study destinations and have seen significant growth in research production (and increased rate of international collaboration) and internationally filed patents.

In order to maintain a high standard of teaching and research, catering for the needs of domestic and international student audiences on the one hand and resolving global research challenges on the other, significant and ongoing investment in education is required. In a growing number of countries, uncertainty and austerity are becoming the operating environment for education establishments.

The Shape of Things to Come highlights the scope for more effective application of research excellence into commercial activities which are under-utilised resources for generating inward investment and research income from local and global companies. This study outlines practices of engagement between the higher education system and industry in different countries and draws international comparisons.

In conclusion

The report concludes that the next decade will herald significant change in the higher education landscape that will both intensify competition and provide opportunities for strengthened collaborations globally.

“Just as the world economy is shifting east and south, the evidence suggests, with a lag relative to the shift in economic power, the global tertiary education sector is now starting to move east, but at this stage less so south,” the report says.

Universities in advanced economies will need to look in that direction if opportunities are to be exploited.

Sources:  British Council, University World News



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