Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
25th Oct 2023

OECD reports that international student flows reached a record high in 2022

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • The inbound migration of new international students to OECD countries reached a record high in 2022
  • A new report from the OECD points out that effective migration policy is an important part of governments’ broader policy toolkit, especially for those countries that are trying to respond to continuing labour market gaps and the effects of ageing populations

The OECD's International Migration Outlook always makes for interesting reading and the 2023 edition is no exception. The report finds that inbound international student numbers "bounced back" for OECD countries in 2022. "Over 1.9 million residence permits were issued for international tertiary-level students across the OECD in 2022," say the authors. "This is 24% more than in 2019 and the highest number ever registered. The number of permits issued to international students in the OECD increased by 42% relative to 2021, and by 30% across OECD European countries. The increase was particularly large in countries where border closures were lifted more recently, such as in Japan or New Zealand."

Keeping in mind that OECD is counting only students in higher education (only one component of student mobility, albeit an important one), the report ranks the UK as the top study destination for new international students in 2022, followed by the US, Canada, Australia, and Japan.

Looking back over the past decade, the total number of study permits issued to new international students travelling to OCED countries increased by 61% in 2022 compared the base year of 2012.

The paper adds that, "Most international students in OECD countries come from Asia. In 2021, close to 60% of international students in the OECD came from Asia, mostly from China and India. Compared to 2014, the share of international students from Asia has increased, while the share from Europe has decreased. This increase was particularly strong in the European OECD countries, where the share of Asian students increased from 30% to 36%."

In aggregate, the top countries of origin for international students bound for OECD destination countries are China, India, Vietnam, Germany, and France. Beyond Asia and Europe, Latin America was the next most significant sending region in 2022.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an international body with 38 member-states. The membership is made up of primarily developed, high-income economies, which together host a significant proportion of the world's internationally mobile students. The OECD says that member countries hosted 4.3 million visiting students in 2020, for example, a year in which there were just under six million students abroad in higher education.

Broader context

"International migration to OECD countries was higher in 2022 than in any other year since data has been available," said OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann.

Indeed, this year's report arrives at a point where many OECD governments are actively building or adjusting policy to deal with pressing structural challenges, including labour force skills gaps and the effects of ageing populations.

"Well-managed migration policies are an incredibly important part of the economic policy toolkit and an important contributor to social well-being," said the Secretary-General. "[They] can help OECD countries respond to and mitigate the impact of population ageing."

For additional background, please see:

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