Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
21st Dec 2016

Looking back on 2016: The year in review

2017 is just around the corner, and, just before we usher it in, we are pleased to present our fourth annual review of the year past. The following summary recaps the most-popular items and most-important market developments covered on ICEF Monitor throughout 2016.

The year in visas

We saw a number of key developments through 2016 with respect to student visa processing, post-study work rights, and immigration after graduation, and, as always, these items were of keen interest to ICEF Monitor readers. We started the year with early signs from Canada that the newly elected federal government was prepared to ease the citizenship process for international graduates, and indeed Canadian policy in this respect was formalised with an overhaul of key immigration programmes for foreign graduates late in the year. In July, the same month in which Australia’s simplified student visa framework came into effect, Canada also offered a surprise announcement on visa processing for conditional admissions files. And meanwhile in the US, we saw two long-awaited policy announcements from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program: the first on conditional admissions and another on visa processing for pathway programmes. Not to be outdone, the European Union also eased visa rules for non-EU students this year. And, in keeping with its increasing emphasis on international student recruitment, China also expanded work rights for foreign students.

Continued growth for leading destinations

The US hosted more than one million students

, Canada grew again, and education exports in Australia surpassed AUS$20 billion - a milestone the country celebrating by releasing a very impressive and comprehensive ten-year blueprint for further growth. But the headlines for much of this year belonged to another traditional leader: the UK.

What’s that you say?

In a move that surprised observers around the world, rocked currency rates and stock exchanges, and ran against pollsters’ projections, UK voters opted for a Brexit - an exit from the European Union - in a 23 June referendum vote. The country, including the international education sector, has faced considerable uncertainty in the months since. Student surveys leading up to the referendum suggested that a vote to leave would make the UK a less attractive destination both for European students and for those outside the EU, and indeed earlier this month we saw some early indications of a drop in EU enrolment for the coming academic year. Late in the year, the Brexit vote was overshadowed by the equally surprising victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election. It is hard to measure, but also hard to understate, the impact of such developments on the attractiveness of a given study destination. In the lead-up to the US election, we explored the broad issue of perception and its links to international student mobility in another widely read item this year.

Hey, big sender

We spent much of 2016 tracking major shifts in some of the world’s most important sending markets, including slowing outbound growth in China, a significant contraction in the landmark Saudi scholarship programme, and corresponding scholarship and foreign exchange constraints in Nigeria. These developments helped to fuel one of the more important underlying trends in international education for 2016: an increasing drive towards diversifying international enrolment. We saw a greater emphasis on emerging markets throughout the year as a result - a trend that we can only anticipate will extend into 2017.

How we connect now

Online messaging services

came more to the fore this year, and, along with institutional websites and social channels, we can anticipate that online channels will continue to play a greater role in international student recruitment going forward. This point was reinforced this year by new research that mapped the most influential channels for reaching prospective students as well as the key factors in and influencers of student decision-making. These studies join a growing body of research evidence that provides important, and increasingly nuanced, insights into how prospective students make decisions around study abroad.

Looking ahead

We gather such observations, however, in a time of profound change for teaching and learning. Online learning achieved a new type of critical mass in 2016, and we continue to see new models and new providers entering the online space. Language learning is being similarly influenced by technology, and we note a growing emphasis on transnational education as well. For now, let us conclude where we often begin our thinking about international student mobility: with the big picture. The competitive landscape of international education continued to shift in 2016, with a growing role for regional destinations and some significant growth for important emerging destinations, including China and Russia. There is every indication that we can expect this broad pattern of expanding regional mobility and shifting destination share to continue into the new year. As always, thank you for reading along with us this year and we look forward to bringing you more news and insights for international student recruitment in 2017.

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