South Korea records fourth straight year of strong growth

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • International student numbers in South Korea continue to climb this year with strong year-over-year growth for 2018, and overall growth of nearly 70% since 2014
  • Vietnam has been a major factor in these gains over the last five years and now accounts for nearly 20% of all foreign enrolment in the country
  • This recent-year performance has left South Korea well on track to reach its long-term goal of hosting 200,000 visiting students by 2023

Mark South Korea down as the latest study destination to be tracking towards its long-term growth goals. The most recent data from the National Institute for International Education (NIIED) reveals another year of substantial growth in 2018 when comparing foreign enrolment in the country as of April 2018 to the same period in the year before. The NIIED is an agency of the South Korean Ministry of Education.

The total number of international students in Korea reached 142,205 this year, up nearly 15% over 2017 and with a total year-over-year gain of just under 20,000 students.

This makes 2018 the fourth consecutive year of foreign enrolment growth for South Korea, and adds up to an overall increase of 68% since 2015 (when the total number of visiting students in the country had declined to just under 85,000).

And this continuing growth has put South Korea well on track to reach its longer-term goal to host 200,000 foreign students by 2023.

Thank you Vietnam

As has also been the case in neighbouring Japan, much of Korea’s recent growth can be credited to Vietnam. As of this year, there are just over 27,000 Vietnamese students enrolled in South Korea. This amounts to a near doubling in numbers from this key emerging market in the last year alone, and accounts for the lion’s share of overall year-over-year growth between 2017 to 2018.

Vietnamese students now make up 19% of South Korea’s foreign enrolment. This growing proportion is still greatly overshadowed by the fact that nearly one of every two international students in the country is from China (48%). But the rapid increase in Vietnamese enrolments is starting to shift this balance somewhat. In 2010, Chinese students accounted for 71% of all foreign student numbers, but their proportion of the South Korean total has declined in the years since and 2018 marks the first year that that percentage has dipped below 50%.

Other major senders for South Korea include Mongolia (just under 6,800 students this year), Japan (nearly 4,000), and the United States (2,746).

Roughly six in ten foreign students are pursuing full degree programmes in South Korea, with the balance in non-degree studies, including language programmes.

The bigger picture

As we noted earlier this year, South Korea’s motivation for further increasing its international student base is grounded in two related factors. First, the population of college-aged students in the country is declining due to prevailing demographic trends and, in particular, a declining birth rate. And second, there is both increasing competition and cooperation unfolding around the ASEAN economic community in Southeast Asia, and South Korea correctly sees international students from ASEAN countries as an important link to those markets.

The Korean government has taken a number of steps in support of its longer-term enrolment target, including an expansion of English-taught programmes, improved post-study work opportunities, and increased funding for scholarship programmes for visiting students.

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