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Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
22nd Mar 2023

Outbound mobility trends for five key sending markets in Asia

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • We’ve scoured the most recent available data on outbound mobility from top emerging markets
  • Today’s focus is on Asia, and we’ll turn to Africa and Latin America in the weeks ahead
  • Outbound mobility volumes from Southeast Asia are up massively over 2020

International student mobility is picking up steam, and a growing number of countries are contributing to the overall volume we are seeing in 2023. Today, we’re checking on trends in five top student markets in Asia: Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, and Thailand.

We use 2020 UNESCO data on tertiary outbound mobility as our baseline, then factor in more recent data from government sources where available to determine mobility volumes in 2022. That means our outbound count is a combination of the most recent UNESCO data and more updated statistics from various government sources (Australia, Canada, UK, and United States – and sometimes other destinations). Please note: Australian, Canadian, and US data includes enrolments in other sectors as well as higher education.

In brief, outbound mobility from the five countries is up significantly since 2020 – sometimes nearly doubling. When we note increases, these represent year-over-year growth unless otherwise indicated.

Bangladesh

The most recent UNESCO data (2020) counts 49,150 Bangladeshi students abroad in higher education. In 2022, numbers grew to more than 70,000 Bangladeshi students abroad (including other sectors). Canada, the UK, and US are clearly recruiting more intensely in Bangladesh given growth over the past couple of years.

The UK, Canada, and UAE are the top three destinations at the moment for Bangladeshi students.

  • UK: 12,700 in 2021/2022 (+90% y-o-y)
  • Canada: 12,295 in 2022 (+24.5%)
  • UAE: 11,150 in 2020 according to UNESCO
  • US: 10,600 in 2021/22 (+23%) according to IIE Open Doors data
  • Australia: 7,250 in 2022 (+17%)
  • Malaysia: 6,600 in 2021
  • Germany: 3,930 in 2020 according to UNESCO
  • Japan: 2,800 in 2020
  • India: 2,750 in 2020
  • South Korea and Saudi Arabia: Roughly 2,500 in 2020 (combined)

Plus smaller volumes in other countries.

Nepal

The most recent UNESCO data (2020) counts 95,270 Nepalese students abroad in higher education. In 2022, Nepal was sending out at least 125,500 students (including enrolments in other sectors). A student survey conducted by Indian think tank IC3 revealed strong demand for study abroad among Nepalese high school students, and this finding seems to have been very much on point.

The top three hosts of Nepalese students are Australia, Japan, and India.

  • Australia: 57,190 in 2022 (+25% y-o-y)
  • Japan: 24,260 in 2022 according to JASSO (+29%)
  • India: 13,575 according to UNESCO and Statista
  • US: 11,780 in 2021/22 (+5.5%) according to IIE’s Open Doors data
  • Canada: 7,745 in 2022 (+258%)
  • UK: 4,920 in 2021/22 according to HESA
  • Cyprus, South Korea, Germany: Collectively, over 6,000 in 2020 according to UNESCO

Plus smaller volumes in other countries.

Pakistan

The most recent UNESCO data (2020) counts 64,065 Pakistani students abroad in higher education. Outbound mobility from Pakistan was over 103,190 in 2022 when we consult more recent statistics published by government sources in various destinations. There have been large increases in Pakistani students recorded recently in the UK, Australia, US, Canada, and Germany.

The top three destinations for Pakistani students currently are UAE, UK, and Australia.

  • UAE: 24,865 in 2020 according to UNESCO
  • UK: 23,075 in 2021/22 (+62% y-o-y)
  • Australia: 15,875 in 2022 (+15%)
  • US: 8,770 in 2021/22 (+17%)
  • Germany: 7,115 in 2021/22 (+22%)
  • Canada: 6,405 in 2022 (+38%)
  • Kyrgyzstan: 6,000 in 2020 according to UNESCO
  • Malaysia: 4,700 in 2021
  • Turkey: 2,385 in 2020 according to UNESCO
  • Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Sweden, Qatar: At least 4,000 in 2020 according to UNESCO

Plus smaller volumes in other countries.

Philippines

The most recent UNESCO data (2020) counts 26,162 Filipino students abroad in higher education. If we look at total enrolments – very important for this market because of its demand for shorter courses and vocational or college programmes – there are roughly 62,000 Filipino students abroad in 2022, particularly because of a huge flow of Filipino students to Canada.

The top three destinations for Filipino students currently are Canada, Australia, and the US.

  • Canada: 32,455 in 2022 (+112%)
  • Australia: 17,975 in 2022 (+25%)
  • US: 3,270 in 2021/22 (+13%)
  • UAE: 2,250 in 2020 according to UNESCO
  • UK: 2,000 in 2020 according to UNESCO
  • Japan, Saudi Arabia, New Zealand, Jordan: Close to 4,000 collectively according to UNESCO

Plus smaller volumes in other countries

Thailand

The most recent UNESCO data (2020) counts 32,066 Thai students abroad in higher education. The number of Thai students abroad in all sectors has grown moderately to about 40,720 in 2022.

The top three destinations for Thai students currently are Australia, UK, and US.

  • Australia: 19,360 in 2022 (+78%)
  • UK: 5,405 in 2022 (+21%)
  • US: 5,010 in 2021/22 according to IIE’s Open Doors report
  • Canada: 2,755 in 2022 (+78%)
  • Egypt: 2,955 in 2020 according to UNESCO
  • Japan: 2,735 in 2022 (+15% but down from a high of 3,415 in 2020)
  • Germany, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, New Zealand: Collectively over 2,500 in 2020

Notes on China

China’s borders were mostly closed to international students till 2023. As a result, China’s foreign enrolment dropped significantly from the start of the pandemic (2020) to 2023. Still, we will note 2018 figures given that Chinese borders are now open again and China has resumed active recruitment in its top markets – many of which are in Asia.

In China in 2018, there were 10,735 Bangladeshi students, 28,600 Thai students, and 28,025 Pakistani students.

Data Sources

Much of the data for this article comes from the following sources:

For additional background, please see:

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