Worldwide student numbers forecast to double by 2025

The number of students around the globe enrolled in higher education is forecast to more than double to 262 million by 2025. Nearly all of this growth will be in the developing world, with more than half in China and India alone. The number of students seeking study abroad could rise to eight million – nearly three times more than today.

In a new book, higher education consultant Bob Goddard writes that the worldwide increase is being fuelled by greater numbers of young people entering the peak education ages along with sharply rising participation rates, especially in the non-compulsory education years.

But the developing countries experiencing a huge demand for further and higher education will be unable to provide enough places, Goddard says. So by 2025, eight million students will have to travel to other countries to study – nearly three times more than today.

“Average annual growth in demand for international higher education between 2005 and 2025 is expected to exceed 3% in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Central America and South America,” Goddard writes.

“While the inability of developing countries to meet the medium-term demand for education domestically is a key factor determining the number of students travelling to another country for education purposes, it is also true there is a growing recognition of the benefits of an international education experience.”

The English-speaking countries have been long accustomed to dominating the market in selling international education to students but that situation is undergoing rapid change, Goddard notes.

Traditional source countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the Middle East are developing their own capacities to offer education to outsiders. Singapore hopes to attract 150,000 foreign students by 2015, Malaysia 100,000 by 2020 and Jordan 100,000 by the same year.

China, despite facing huge demand for higher education from its own young people, is planning to expand its enrolments of foreigners from 200,000 at present to 300,000 by 2020.

Then there are developed countries such as Japan that have shown little interest in the past in marketing education overseas. With an ageing population and an increasingly under-utilised higher education sector, Goddard says there is a growing realisation among the Japanese that this could provide opportunities for “substantial levels of international recruitment”.

Although the book, Making a Difference: Australian international education, traces the history of foreign students enrolled in Australian institutions, several of the contributors such as Goddard place the local situation in the context of global changes in transnational education.

Described by the publishers as “possibly the first fully documented comprehensive record of a country’s international education initiatives”, it explores the beginnings of Australia’s involvement in providing higher education to foreign students, believed to have started as early as 1904, through the Colombo Plan period of free tuition from the early 1950s to 1985, and the subsequent impact over the next 25 years of the introduction of full fees for overseas students in 1986.

To mark the 25th anniversary from when the federal government allowed universities to charge foreign students the full cost of tuition, two experts in the field of international education, Dorothy Davis and Dr Bruce Mackintosh, edited a collection of essays by key players to produce a 450-page description of how international education has transformed Australian universities and contributed billions of dollars to the national economy.

In a preliminary essay describing how higher education has become an aspect of increasing globalisation, Professor Fazal Rizvi discusses the increasing mobility of higher education students and “the shifting dynamics of internationalisation”.

A professor of global studies in education at the University of Melbourne, Rizvi notes that, driven by developments in information and communication technologies, globalisation “has given rise to new forms of transnational interconnectivity.

“It has implied that while people continue to live in particular localities, these are increasingly integrated into larger systems of global networks...[and as a result] people around the world are becoming increasingly aware of this fact and are reshaping their lives accordingly.

“As people – as well as governments and institutions such as education – experience on a daily basis the realities of transnational economic relations, technological and media innovations, and cultural flows across national borders with greater speed and intensity than ever before, they increasingly use these experiences to make strategic calculations about their futures in global terms...”

Australia was one of the first countries to recognise how the global knowledge economy had created “a class of potential students prepared to invest in global mobility for their education, and who consider the value of international knowledge networks in largely economic terms”, Rizvi says.

He refers to an emerging “transnational class of people who can now not only afford international education but also regard it as a major marker of status”.

By capitalising on this and attracting hundreds of thousands of foreign students to its institutions, Australia showed other Western countries how profitable selling education could be.

As discussed above, though, an unexpected by-product has been sharply increased competition, not only from the big English-speaking countries of Britain, America and Canada, but also from European nations and some of the Asian countries that have been the biggest sources of overseas students.

Instead of regarding this as a challenge to boost their marketing efforts, Rizvi argues that universities should rethink their approaches.

“As higher education institutions round the world embrace mobility, there is a growing awareness of the new demands and possibilities of collaboration and networking among institutions dealing with knowledge production and dissemination,” he writes, noting that this seems likely to shift attention away from a focus on educational markets and their commercial possibilities towards the importance of transnational collaboration.

“If the market view of international education was largely about recruiting students, enabling them to experience Australian education, then the emphasis on transnational collaborations implies rethinking the nature and scope of that education itself.”

* Making a Difference: Australian international education, edited by Dorothy Davis and Bruce Mackintosh, UNSW Press, may be ordered from the International Education Association of Australia.