Open Doors 2013: More international students in the US, most growth from China

The 2013 Open Doors Report on international educational exchange was released this week, and it shows that the number of international students in the US continues to grow despite remaining a small fraction of total enrolments at US universities. It also highlights international students’ impressive contribution to the US economy, and reveals how relatively rare it still is for American students to study abroad themselves.

The report is published annually by the Institute of International Education (IIE) in partnership with the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The two entities have been producing the report together since 1972. For a review of the 2011/12 data, please see last year’s article on ICEF Monitor.

Today’s post will present highlights from the report, while a subsequent post will look more closely at some of the rich Open Doors data on international mobility trends.

More international students in the US than ever, but lower global share

In the 2012/13 academic year, 819,644 international students were enrolled in the US, an increase of 7.2% over the previous year and the seventh year of consecutive growth. Despite this growth, international students represent only 3.9% of the total number of students in American undergraduate and graduate programmes.

There are 40% more international students in the US than there were a decade ago. However, the OECD and Project Atlas find that the US share of international students in the global education sector is down by 10% over this same period.

For the second year in a row, there are more international undergraduates than there are international graduate students, a trend driven largely by undergraduate scholarship programmes in countries including Brazil (Brazil Scientific Mobility Programme), Saudi Arabia (King Abdullah Scholarship Programme), and smaller initiatives in Kuwait. Previous to these last two years, graduate programmes were the big draw for international students in the US.

All of the top 20 host universities and the top 10 host states had more international students in 2012/13 than the previous year. The states, in order, with the most international students in 2012/13 were California, New York, Texas, Massachusetts, and Illinois. The institutions with the most international students, in order, were the University of Southern California (for the twelfth consecutive year), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Purdue University, New York University, and Columbia University. Important new additions to the top 20 list this year: University of Pennsylvania and University of California-Berkeley.

Overall, international students injected roughly US $24 billion into the US economy. New NAFSA findings show that they also supported 313,000 jobs, “a 6.2% increase in job support and creation.”

China contributes the most to the US international student population

Chinese enrolments increased by a huge 21.4% in total (and 25.9% at the undergrad level). There are now 235,597 Chinese students studying in the US.

Students from the top three senders – China, India, and South Korea – now account for half (49%) of international students in the US. But it’s really China that dominates, sending almost as many students as the other top sending nations combined (India at #2 with 96,754, South Korea #3 with 70,627, Saudi Arabia #4 with 44,566 and up two places, and Canada #5 with 27,357).

Of the top 25 source countries for international enrolments in the US, more than half (16) sent more students to the US than last year:

  • Brazil;
  • Canada;
  • China;
  • Colombia;
  • France;
  • Germany;
  • Indonesia;
  • Iran;
  • Kuwait;
  • Malaysia;
  • Mexico;
  • Nigeria;
  • Saudi Arabia;
  • Spain;
  • UK;
  • Vietnam.

Along with India and South Korea, the following countries in the top 25 sending list sent fewer students to the US than last year:

  • Hong Kong;
  • India;
  • Japan;
  • Nepal;
  • South Korea;
  • Taiwan;
  • Thailand;
  • Turkey;
  • Venezuela.

The India and South Korea declines – India of -3.5% and South Korea of -2.3% – are the most likely to be felt by American education institutions given the overall contribution they make.

More Americans than ever are studying abroad, but they are still relatively few

In 2011/12, 283,332 American students studied abroad for credit, 3.4% more than the previous year. However, despite this being a record number, the Open Doors report notes that less than 10% of American undergraduates will have studied abroad by the time they graduate.

The top five destinations for American students are:

  • UK (+4.5% growth over the previous year);
  • Italy (-2.4%);
  • Spain (+2%);
  • France (+.9%);
  • China (+2%).

Countries receiving big increases of American students include Japan (27.8%), Brazil (16.5%), Ecuador (15%), Peru (9.5%), Ireland (9%), and Costa Rica (9.3%).

Countries receiving significant losses of American students include Greece (-21.2%) Mexico (-8.4%), Israel (-7.3%), Chile (-6.6%), and Australia (-4.2%).

Of the relatively small, if growing, number of Americans going abroad to study for credit, IIE president Allan E. Goodman said:

“We need to increase substantially the number of US students who go abroad so that they too can gain the international experience which is so vital to career success and deepening mutual understanding.”

US institutions say what’s driving growth

IIE (with several other partners) conducted a complementary “Fall 2013 Snapshot Survey” of 380 institutions to look at early enrolment indications in advance of the release of the full Open Doors data. In that survey, 72% of participating institutions said their international student enrolment trends were up.

When asked why they thought their institutions were experiencing growth in international students, respondents cited:

  • Active recruitment efforts (68%);
  • The growing reputation and visibility of US campuses abroad (61%);
  • The growth of the middle class in rapidly developing countries (43%);
  • More linkages with institutions in other countries (31%).

The IIE reports that many also cited “the availability of scholarships by foreign governments and other types of sponsors.”

They also found that 70% of participating universities had “launched new efforts in the past year to maintain or increase their international enrolments.”

Please see our follow-up post for additional coverage of IIE’s 2013 Open Doors report.



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