GLOBAL: What defines an international student?

The mobility of students and academics across borders has become big business in recent years, and authorities in receiving countries have become increasingly efficient in tracking and reporting the data surrounding their education-export industries, writes Nick Clark, editor of World Education News & Reviews. Yet, the comparison of international enrolment statistics is somewhat problematic as national agencies collect data in different ways and according to different definitions. This makes statistical comparisons difficult and often inaccurate or misleading.

In recognition of this, the two biggest compilers and aggregators of cross-border student mobility data have, since 2006, attempted to standardise terms and definitions related to the collection of academic mobility statistics. Specifically, they have drawn a distinction between an international student and a foreign student, in a bid to encourage national agencies to standardize their data along similar lines.

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics' (UIS) Global Education Digest (2006), an internationally mobile student has left his or her country, or territory of origin, and moved to another country or territory with the singular objective of studying. The OECD, in Education at a Glance (2006), supports this definition and makes an important distinction between 'international students' and 'foreign students' in defining terms for the cross-border-mobility section of its comparative dataset.

Adopted in 2006, the OECD and UIS convention is to use the term 'international student' when referring to students crossing borders for the specific purpose of studying, and the term 'foreign student' for non-citizens enrolled at an institution of education outside their home country, but who have not necessarily crossed a border to study (therefore not strictly mobile, and cause an over-count of actual mobility figures).
Full article on the World Education Services site