Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
23rd Dec 2015

Goal oriented: International enrolment targets around the world

2015 was a banner year for many study destinations. But, as much growth as we have seen in international student mobility over the past decade, many countries have pegged their international education strategies on still-more ambitious targets for the future. In this, our last post of the year, we are pleased to offer the following survey of international education benchmarks and goals from the world’s ten leading study destinations.

United States

The US remained the world’s leading study destination in 2015. The number of international students enrolled in US higher education grew by 10% in 2014/15 - marking the ninth consecutive year of enrolment growth for the US and the biggest year-over-year jump in 35 years. All told, there were 974,926 foreign students enrolled in US higher education institutions in 2014/15. NAFSA now estimates the economic impact of the sector at US$30.5 billion, and that international student enrolment supports 373,381 American jobs. While the US has not established any firm targets for its inbound enrolment, it has done so for outbound mobility. The US-based Institute of International Education (IIE) is leading an effort to double the number of American students abroad to 600,000 by 2017/18.

United Kingdom

After registering its first decline in international student numbers in nearly three decades in 2012/13, the UK bounced back in 2013/14 with a modest 3% increase in non-European Union enrolment. The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) reports 310,195 non-EU students enrolled in British higher education for 2013/14, and Universities UK has estimated their economic impact at more than £7 billion per year (US$10.4 billion). The IIE, meanwhile, puts the total number of international students in the UK (including those from the European Union and elsewhere) at 493,570 for 2014. Earlier this year, UK Minister for Universities and Science Jo Johnson announced the government’s commitment to increasing overall education exports from £18 billion in 2012 to £30 billion by 2020. The British Treasury has also set a goal of recruiting an additional 55,000 students by that same year.


China has long been the world’s leading source of international students but it has quietly (and rather substantially) built its inbound enrolment in recent years as well. By 2012, the IIE’s Project Atlas had noted China as the third-largest study destination in the world with a total of 328,330 foreign students enrolled that year. The latest Project Atlas data indicates that China’s international enrolment grew by another 15% over the last two years to reach 377,054 students in 2014. This growth is impressive but China is aiming higher still, with an official target to attract 500,000 foreign students by 2020.


Germany edged out France this year for the number four position among global study destinations for higher education students. With its booming economy, impressive number of English-taught programmes, and international tuitions that are either "strikingly affordable or non-existent," Germany’s international student enrolment grew by 7% between 2013 and 2014 alone. Just over 301,000 foreign students enrolled in German higher education in 2014, leaving the country well on track to reach its 2020 target of 350,000 students.


Keeping pace with Germany, France has seen comparable growth of about 7% between 2012 and 2014. It hosted just over 298,000 international students in 2014, representing about 13% of higher education enrolment in the country that year. An economic impact study by market research firm BVA estimates total spending by foreign students in France was €4.65 billion (US$5.1 billion) in 2013/14. However, France has an established goal to push its foreign student numbers considerably higher: to 20% of higher education enrolment by 2025. This works to about 470,000 international students based on current participation rates.


In the Project Atlas frame of reference, which is concerned only with higher education enrolment, Australia comes in as the sixth-ranked global study destination with 269,752 students in 2014. Australian Department of Education and Training data, however, captures enrolment across all categories (including VET, English language training, and schools) and it puts the total number of foreign students in Australia at 464,787 through June 2015, which marks a third consecutive year of growth. Australian education exports reached a record-high AUS$18.1 billion (US$13.1 billion) in 2014/15, securing the sector’s position as Australia’s fourth-largest export industry, after iron ore, coal, and natural gas. International education is also the country’s leading services export sector, surpassing even Australia’s noted tourism industry by several billion dollars.


Citizenship and Immigration Canada reports 336,497 international students in Canada for 2014, representing an 83% increase since 2008 and a 10% year-over-year increase to build on 2013’s record enrolment. Canada has an established goal to reach 450,000 international students by 2022.


After three years of minimal or no growth, Japan saw a notable spike in its foreign enrolment in 2014 with 184,155 international students enrolled that year. (Project Atlas statistics suggest the bulk of these - about 140,000 students - were enrolled in higher education.) The country has a long-established goal to host 300,000 foreign students by 2020, which, based on recent-year performance, may be slipping out of reach.


Malaysia has made impressive gains in establishing itself as an important regional hub for higher education in Asia. It hosted 135,000 foreign students in 2014 and aims to nearly double this base to reach 250,000 students by 2025.

New Zealand

New Zealand’s international enrolment has grown at a steady clip over the last couple of years. It hosted 110,198 foreign students in 2014 (13% more than in 2013), and year-to-date figures suggest that student numbers are on track for another 12-13% growth in 2015. The international education sector in New Zealand is now valued at NZ$2.85 billion (US$1.94 billion) and estimated to support 30,230 jobs. The government has established a target to increase its value to NZ$5 billion (US$3.4 billion) by 2025.

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