New UNESCO interactive map on global student mobility

East Asia and the Pacific is the largest source of international students, representing 28% of the world’s 3.6 million mobile students in 2010. Central Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa have the most mobile students, and several countries have more students abroad than at home.

These facts are highlighted in a new “Global Flow of Tertiary-level Students” interactive map published by the UNESCO institute of Statistics (UIS) in Canada last month.

“The surge in internationally mobile students reflects the rapid expansion of enrolment in higher education globally, which has grown by 78% in a decade,” says the UIS, which defines ‘internationally mobile students’ as those who have crossed a national border to study or are enrolled in a distance learning programme abroad.

Chiao-Ling Chien, researcher and analyst in the UIS’ Education Indicators and Data Analysis section, told University World News that the new tool was the only one of its kind “to show the perspective of rich and poor nations, of South and North, and of West and East, in terms of student flows.

“In particular, for instance, readers can see exactly where Canadian students pursue their education abroad and which countries are sending the most students to Canada.

“Generally, outbound mobility statistics are less likely to be maintained by students’ home countries because students who travel abroad do not necessarily report to national governments, particularly those [students] who fund their study abroad through personal and family funds.

“Therefore, this interactive map on student mobility can assist countries in knowing the magnitude and where their students go to study,” Chien added.

Regions that host the largest number of internationally mobile students are North America and Western Europe (58%), East Asia and the Pacific (21%), and Central and Eastern Europe (9%). The top destination countries in 2010 were the United States (19%), United Kingdom (11%), Australia (8%), France (7%), Germany (6%) and Japan (4%).

The top source countries of international students are China, India and Korea, the UIS says, while the 22 Arab states saw a steady rise in outbound students, accounting for 7% of the global total.

The UNESCO map highlights two types of destinations for students: regional and international.

For example, the Arab states of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (Dubai) are popular destinations for high-level studies for Arab students, and South Africa received 17% of mobile students from Sub-Saharan Africa in 2010.

France remains the top destination for Arab and Sub-Saharan African students, receiving 29% and 19% of these students respectively. Germany and Russia are the top destinations for students from Central and Eastern Europe, and Central Asia, receiving 16% and 46% of these regions’ students respectively.

The US is the top destination for East Asia and the Pacific, South and West Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean, receiving 28%, 38% and 33% respectively of their mobile students. And North America and Western Europe's top destination is the UK at 23%.

Several countries have more students studying abroad than at home including Andorra, Anguilla, Bermuda, Dominica, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Montserrat, São Tomé and Principe.

In São Tomé and Principe, for instance, 14% (2,500 students) of its total 18% tertiary-age population is enrolled in higher education institutions abroad.