US: Chinese drive 5% international student growth

International student enrolment at American colleges and universities has been growing steadily for the past five years, reaching a record high of 723,277 in 2010, according to a new report by the Institute of International Education. The annual Open Doors study found that the majority of international students came from China, with their number rising by 23% - the fourth consecutive year of double-digit increases.

The overall number of international students increased by 5% in 2010, while new international student enrolment grew by 6% percent to 214,490, a significant improvement from the paltry 1% increase in 2009.

Of the overall figure, graduate international students make up 293,885, continuing to outnumber undergraduate international students as they have been since 2001.

"It is positive news that our higher education institutions continue to excel in attracting students from all over the world, and in preparing American students to succeed in an increasingly global environment," Allan Goodman, president and CEO of the Institute of International Education, said in a statement.

The number of Chinese student enrolments rose to nearly 158,000 students, putting China in the lead for the second year running.

Indian students, although making up the second largest segment of the international student population, dropped by 1% to nearly 104,000. Still, students from India continue to flock to the US more than they do to any other country, according to the report.

Saudi Arabia, although sending students in far fewer numbers, increased its student flow by 44% thanks to sizable government grants and scholarships.

Most US states saw an increase in international student enrolment, with California, New York and Texas leading the way, hosting 33% of all international students in 2010.

As the economy continues to falter, growth in international enrolments is an economic boon for the US. International students contribute more than $21 billion to the US economy, $10.2 billion more than a decade ago, according to the report.

Not only do foreign students help boost revenue at their host campuses, they also stimulate the local economy by paying rent and buying items such as health insurance and textbooks, generating revenue of nearly $3 billion in some states.

The top fields of study for international students were business and management, and engineering, followed by physical and life sciences, maths and social sciences.

The number of US students studying abroad has also grown, by 88% in the past decade. The number continues to rise, with 260,327 American students studying abroad in the 2009-10 academic year, a 4% increase from the previous year.

Europe still leads the way as the top destination for American students, although non-traditional countries are gaining in popularity. Out of the top 25 destinations, 14 are found outside of Europe. Some, such as India, Israel and Brazil, saw double-digit increases in American enrollees.

Most US students studying overseas were enrolled in short term periods of study, generally eight weeks or less during the academic year.

According to a more recent survey on study abroad patterns conducted by Institute of International Education in collaboration with the Forum on Education Abroad, more than 53% of universities questioned reported an increase in their students studying overseas for the 2010-11 academic year

Many of the campuses said they were more focused on finding affordable opportunities to enable their students to gain international experience.

"The international skills they gain are crucial to their ability to succeed in global careers and work together across borders to address important world issues," said Goodman in a statement. "It is important that we as educators work to try to ensure that all students have the opportunity to study abroad."

Despite the steady increase in American students studying overseas, these students represent little more than 1% of overall enrolment at US universities and colleges in a given year.