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24th Jun 2013

US a source of international students too

The US is often in the news for its reputation as the leading destination for international students. But American students go overseas, too – as a recent report based on a two-year analysis by the Institute of International Education (IIE), New Frontiers: US Students Pursuing Degrees Abroad, clearly illustrates. And, they’re increasingly looking for full degree programmes, not just certificates: according to the report, the number of American students pursuing full degrees abroad grew by 5% from 2010/11 to 2011/12. Administered from May 2012 to April 2013 by IIE, the US partner and Secretariat for Project Atlas®, a global network of 27 country and research partners collaborating on data collection and research in student mobility, the report focused on data from 14 countries receiving American full-degree students.

Key findings

  • Most Americans electing to study overseas are doing so in short-term, for-credit courses (273,000 in 2011/12), but the 5% growth in full degree-seeking Americans overseas means there are now about 46,500 pursuing full degree programmes outside of the US.
  • Of Americans studying for full degrees abroad, more than 8 in 10 (84%) are enrolled in bachelor’s (42%) or master’s programmes (42% as well). Just under 1 in 5 (16%) are studying at the doctoral level.
  • Despite the growing need around the world for STEM graduates, the majority of Americans studying abroad are taking courses in the humanities, social sciences, and physical sciences.
  • Two-thirds (68%) of Americans pursuing degrees overseas have chosen Anglophone countries. The leading destination is the UK, which in 2010/11 hosted 6,085 American undergraduate and 10,660 graduate students. Of all the destination countries submitting data, the UK saw the largest increase in absolute numbers between 2010/11 and 2010/12 (adding 560 more US students) – representing 3.5% growth.
  • Also notable in Europe was the fact that Sweden increased its numbers of Americans seeking degrees by 17%, while Spain decreased by 8.5%.
  • China saw the largest percentage increase from 2011 of all the countries submitting data, adding 518 students in just one year (2010/11 to 2011/12).

Strategies being used to attract American students

The IIE report noted that scholarships and reduced tuition incentives are the most broadly and frequently used strategies used to attract American students, but that there are also unique country-specific strategies in place. For example:

  • Canada’s liberal off-campus work policies and rules that allow international students to extend the length of their post-graduation work permits;
  • Ireland’s efforts to integrate international students with domestic students and focus on the career outcomes of students;
  • France’s emphasis on helping international students to adjust and providing assistance with university housing and health insurance.

Room for growth

The IIE report notes that the cost of higher education in the US is “increasingly prohibitive” and that this, combined with well-designed national/institutional strategies to interest American students looking for full degrees may be making foreign degrees increasingly attractive to US students. However, the report emphasised that at present, the main demand among American students for overseas study is for short-term, for-credit programmes as opposed to full degrees, saying:

“… there are nearly six times as many American students participating in study abroad programmes for credit at the US home campus (273,000) as there are US students enrolled in overseas degree programmes (46,500).”

It noted that “most host countries report a strong desire to expand their hosting of degree students from the US”; strategies like the ones being employed by Canada, Ireland, and France are evidence of this.

STEM on the agenda

As much as American students are currently studying outside their country mostly in areas like humanities, social sciences, and physical sciences, the US government has STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) skill-building in its sights. In February, ICEF Monitor reported on a US Senate proposal to automatically grant green cards to international graduates of US universities with degrees in the STEM fields, as well as significantly increase the number of H-1B visas. Now, there is news of a new programme supporting university collaboration between US-UK, and emerging nations for up to five years called the “UK-US Global Innovation Initiative.” The programme is being hailed as the “first multilateral higher education partnership programme working directly with the US and UK governments.” The press release continued, "Institutions in emerging economies will be the first to be targeted in the programme, with an aim that up to 40 trilateral partnerships involving 120 universities worldwide will benefit in its first year and up to 600 over the five-year period.” US Secretary of State John Kerry, who with UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, signed the Memorandum of Understanding for the UK-US Global Innovation Initiative, and explained:

“This important initiative is going to support multilateral research emphasising science, technology, engineering, and it will focus on issues such as climate change … and sustainable development. And this initiative will also further our higher education cooperation, which is a priority of both President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron. It will bolster collaborations between universities in the United States and the United Kingdom.”

The new programme will be welcome news for higher education stakeholders in both the US and UK who are nervous about STEM skills shortages in their countries. In any case, there does seem to be an emerging trend in the US of considering the rest of the world when it comes to higher education research collaboration. As ICEF Monitor reported earlier this spring, a recent study has shown that more than half of US students (56%) are considering studying abroad. The study, “Broadening Horizons: Breaking through the barriers to overseas study,” by Education Intelligence, the British Council’s global research arm, noted that:

“Access to information resources for students seeking an overseas study experience is crucial at every stage of the decision-making process, whether the information is to do with funding, course choice, programme length or destination.”

The report further highlighted that US students who want to study abroad appear to be more interested in doing so in order to travel and explore other cultures. American's penchant for travel clearly continues to climb, as we heard earlier this year from Mr Adam Cooper, STA's director of business development and ISIC, that his company has seen double digit growth for the last ten years from students in the US who are travelling abroad. For more on this trend, please see our video interview with Mr Cooper which discusses the synergies between leisure travel and educational travel, as well as current market trends and what factors influence future travel trends.

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