Where international students will study over the next decade

A recent post in ScienceGuide featured an analysis by Mr Alan Ruby, senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania (and an expert on the effects of globalisation on education) of three reports on international education supply and demand over the next decade: one from the UK, one from Canada, and one from Australia. In this ICEF Monitor post, we will recap some key points from Ruby’s interesting analysis.

The number of international students will go up

The reason for this is summarised in the report by the British Council which simply notes “real increases in the overall population of 18 to 22-year-olds, and in the purchasing power in emerging economies despite the recent recession.”

The British Council estimates that the current proportion of 2% of students studying outside of their home country worldwide will remain stable, and thus that by 2020, the global population of higher education students will grow by about 21 million, to roughly 190 million students overall.

If the global population of higher education students doesn’t reach this target, Mr Ruby ruminates, it might be because:

  • The quality of domestic education will go up in some countries;
  • Recessionary pressures tend to make overseas study too expensive.

If it exceeds this target, Mr Ruby thinks it will be because of:

  • The continued growth of the middle class in India and China, which increases the numbers of students who can afford international studies;
  • Structural changes in economies which demand more skilled labour – and the continuation of strong premiums for higher education in the labour market.

So Mr Ruby considers the 2% estimated rate to be a good conservative estimate.

Where will demand come from?

Not a lot of surprises here, at least in the top rung. The British Council considers that by 2020 China, India, Indonesia, and Brazil could contribute roughly 100,000 international students to the population of those wanting to pursue higher education abroad. (However, at about the middle point of yesterday’s article, we reference reports of falling demand from India).

The British Council also sees Nigeria, Malaysia, Pakistan, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia – along with students from other populous countries – as having the potential to add another 100,000 students seeking international study.

What will the demand be for?

Collectively, the reports imagine that about half of the increase in demand for study abroad will be directed at programmes delivered in English. This leaves the English market leaders – the US, the UK, Australia, and Canada – with the potential to command the most international students. But there are caveats:

  • Australia is still working on a formula to project a welcoming yet discretionary image to international students – including its visa and immigration policies – and the Australia report cited in the ScienceGuide article notes some issues of capacity.
  • The UK’s increasing fees and tighter visa policies could dampen demand from international students.
  • When it comes to Canada, there is no capacity issue (the Canadian market assessment suggests that Canada can continue to enroll, without additional significant infrastructure expenditure, 7% more international students per year). However, Canadian schools are still building their image as it relates to prestige vis a vis top competitors in the US and the UK.
  • All the market reports predict that the US will continue to be the first choice of most international students seeking programmes in English, but Mr Ruby notes there will have to be significant efforts to increase internationalisation at many small-to-medium campuses to accommodate new demand.

Mr Ruby also notes that there will be at least a couple of hundred thousand international students who will not choose Canada, Australia, the UK, or the US.

He sees English-based programmes in other nations as candidates for picking up some of this demand; indeed, in a recent post on EU countries’ strategies for attracting students, we noted that some EU countries are introducing a much heavier percentage of programmes in English (see France).

Mr Ruby also points out that branch campuses and transnational programmes will have the opportunity to attract international students not headed to the major destination countries.

What may affect the outcome

Mr Ruby’s analysis of the three reports is very useful and thought-provoking; he acknowledges it as “generalisations” for the most part but these generalisations are wonderful bases for consideration of all sorts – including consideration by non-leading destination countries of strategies to attract more students.

For example, we have written extensively of late on…

All of these factors may well alter the balance of where international students choose to go over the next decade.



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