Year in review: What we learned in 2017

Here comes 2018 around the corner, and many of us have already booked travel, laid plans, and otherwise set the stage for another fast-paced year in international education.

But before all that, let’s take a moment to look back on the year past and some of the things we learned along the way.

Macro trends are starting to have an effect

Many of us working in international education today have enjoyed an extended period of dramatic growth in international mobility for roughly 20 years between 1990 and 2010. Right around 2010, however, that growth curve began to flatten out in a very pronounced way. The number of students going abroad continues to grow, but more slowly than we are used to and there are any number of implications in this for recruiters.

We’ve also observed some important shifts in underlying demand factors that will change the shape of student mobility in the coming decades. Economic growth and the expansion of the middle class continues to be big factor in influencing demand for study abroad, but so too are the broad demographic patterns that determine the scale of a country’s college-aged population. We noted this year that that key college-aged demographic will peak in Asia somewhere around 2020 and begin a gradual decline from that high point over the rest of this century. Africa is the global standout in terms of this key indicator, and its college-aged population is projected to grow strongly for decades to come.

The destination menu is changing

The US and UK are still the world’s leading study destinations. But both have lost market share over the past decade or so. Roiled by more restrictive visa policies and, more recently, by the uncertainty around the Brexit process, the UK has been stuck in a pattern of marginal growth in recent years. The US continues to set new records for foreign enrolment, but its market share has slipped noticeably since about 2001. And in 2016/17, international commencements in the US actually declined for the first time in 12 years.

In contrast to this, foreign enrolment in China is surging, to the extent that China is now the fourth-largest study destination worldwide. But the big story in 2017 may well have been that Australia and Canada continue to surge with both countries booking strong double-digit growth this year.

Honourable mention as well to Germany which earlier this year became the first major destination to reach its long-term enrolment target. Germany’s goal was to reach an enrolment of 350,000 foreign students by 2020, and it hit that benchmark some months ago – a full three years ahead of schedule.

People are getting serious about diversification

Much of the growth in international mobility over the last two decades and more has been driven by China, and, latterly, China and India. Most major study destinations now face a common challenge in that their burgeoning foreign enrolments are disproportionately reliant on these two key sending markets.

This has given rise in turn to an increasing interest in actively recruiting from a wider field of emerging growth markets. Likely targets vary by institution and destination, but some of the strongest market fundamentals are found in countries like Colombia, Indonesia, Iran, Vietnam, and Nigeria.

We took on the question of market selection in this year’s ICEF Insights magazine, which features a blueprint for evaluating and prioritising target markets abroad.

We’re better together

2017 was also marked by an increasing emphasis on national or regional strategies for international education. Such initiatives can be a trigger for investment in recruitment marketing and student services, and they also provide a valuable structure for coordinating related government policy, branding efforts, and recruitment marketing by both collectives and individual institutions and schools.

Australia is in the midst of implementing its ten-year blueprint for market expansion, and we see many fascinating cases of regional or local destination marketing groups within Australia that are doing truly innovative work in student recruitment and retention.

Among many other examples, Malaysia continues to expand its collaborative marketing efforts and Ireland is in the early stages of rolling out its own national strategy. In the Irish example, we see important policy effects with respect to post-study work rights, targeted funding, and national programmes to improve housing and student services.

Online is mainstreaming

No year in review can be complete without some reflection on technological change, and 2017’s big insight in this respect is that online learning has moved increasingly to the mainstream.

Enrolment in online courses continues to expand at a rapid rate, and we increasingly see that major educational brands, including some of the world’s elite institutions, are becoming more active in the online space.

This greater participation in online is being further supported by new and innovative learning models, including those that link virtual and face-to-face instruction, and by a growing openness to online education on the part of both students and parents.

Whew! As even this brief summary suggests, we saw a lot of important developments and trends unfolding throughout the year.

As always, thank you for reading along with us. We can’t wait to see what happens next and we look forward to bringing you more news and insights for international student recruitment in 2018.



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