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Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
18th Dec 2019

Year in review: What we learned in 2019

If you are feeling at this stage that the past year went by in a flash, you are not alone. Especially with the swirl of world-shaping political events, a renewed emphasis on diversification and new markets, and the ever-expanding range of ways in which students and agents and educators connect with each other, the last 12 months have passed quickly indeed.

But before we get ready to usher in 2020, let’s take a moment to reflect on some of the key takeaways and lessons learned in 2019.

Changes at the top

This year continued a period of rapid expansion for Canada and cemented the country’s position as a destination to watch. Among the world’s top ten host countries, none have grown faster than Canada over the last five years.

Indeed, both Canada and Australia have claimed a greater share of the global student market over this period, with each extending their strong growth trajectories through 2019. Those gains have come in part at the expense of other traditional leaders – the US and the UK – whose foreign enrolments have been relatively flat over the same timeframe.

2020 will mark another year of heightened competition as Canada and Australia continue to work to consolidate recent-year gains and achieve further progress in diversifying foreign enrolments. The big question marks in the year ahead will be around what steps US educators and policy makers will take to boost competitiveness, the impact of the UK’s new post-study work visa, and the role that other top destinations outside of the top five (US, Australia, UK, Canada, China) will play in shaping the competitive dynamic.

Asia is now a real competitive force

In addition to China – which is now solidly in place as the world’s fifth-leading study destination – there are several other Asian countries that have all set out substantial goals and strategies to further expand their foreign enrolments.

These include Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, and together they are creating a new momentum toward intra-regional mobility in Asia.

Underpinning this trend is the growing profile and reputation of higher education institutions in many regional destinations within Asia, the gravitational pull of the Chinese economy, the prevailing demographic trends in other emerging destinations such as Japan and South Korea, and the greater emphasis on proximity to home and affordability for students from a number of emerging sending markets within the region.

Employability is the driver

Research continues to accumulate and to clearly demonstrates that many international students, especially those from developing economies, are keenly interested in studying in countries where there is a clear path toward employment after graduation and after that, even permanent residency. Not coincidentally, major destination countries with rapidly expanding international student populations, such as Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland, and Japan, offer solid post-graduation work rights.

This trend highlights the strong connection between employment goals and study abroad, both with respect to the students’ employment prospects overseas and in their home countries.

We also see increasing evidence of the importance of upskilling and credential layering (including with non-traditional qualifications) as drivers of demand for study abroad.

There are clear implications in this for recruiters, not the least of which is a distinct focus in recruitment marketing on employment outcomes for graduates.

Reinforcing the importance of agents

The key role of education agents in international student mobility is increasingly well recognised, with new findings this year pointing to both a growing engagement with agents on the part of US educators and the very significant impact of agents in other leading destinations, including the UK, Australia, and Canada.

Going forward, we can expect new models and recruiting strategies emerging within the agency sector, and very likely a further expansion of the services on offer as well.

Needless to say

A special thank you to all of our readers, as always, for following along with us this year. We can all expect another fast-paced year in international education in 2020 and we look forward to bringing you the latest insights and analysis every week.

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