Know your international student – Global or glocal?

The number of globally mobile international students has been consistently increasing for decades. At the same time, the number of ‘glocal’ students engaged in transnational education – students staying in their home country (region) while gaining a foreign education – has also been increasing.

How are ‘global’ students different from ‘glocal’ students, and how is their mobility likely to take shape in future?

To answer the above question, I am adapting and extending the results of a previous research study published by World Education Services. The research identified four different groups or segments of US-bound international students based on their academic preparedness and financial resources: Strivers, Strugglers, Explorers and Highfliers.

In addition to the findings of the report about differences in the needs and behaviours of international students, I argue that each segment is driven by different primary motivations.

Strivers are primarily driven by career advancement. Despite being academically well prepared, they may lack the financial resources necessary to pursue education abroad without financial aid.

On the other hand, Explorers are driven by the experience of living abroad and they are ready to spend money on additional support services for study-abroad opportunities to overcome their relatively lower academic preparedness.

Highfliers are academically and financially well-endowed and driven by achievement to be the best, and they see studying abroad at a top institution as one of their goals.

In contrast, Strugglers are not as sensitive to the quality of educational institutions. Instead they may be seeking education as a pathway to emigration.

Student segments in transnational education

With the growth of transnational education models, including validation of degrees, franchise programmes, online degrees, branch campuses and now MOOCs, these four groups of international students may be further characterised by two primary subgroups: ‘global’ and ‘glocal’.

‘Global’ students comprise Highfliers and Strugglers, who will not forgo the value of studying abroad, due to their strong desire for achievement or emigration, respectively.

Thus, traditional destinations like the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia will continue to attract this segment. Alternative pathways to foreign education through transnational education will not be appealing to ‘global’ students.

In contrast, ‘glocal’ students comprise Explorers and Strivers, who have the aspiration to study abroad in traditional destinations like the US, the UK or Australia, but cannot due to their low academic or financial resources respectively.

These students are open to other forms of engaging with transnational education. ‘Glocal’ students are different from ‘global’ ones, as they would like to earn the social prestige and career edge offered by foreign education without having to go very far from home.

Both ‘glocal’ and ‘global’ segments will grow in the medium term, but the ‘glocal’ one is expected to grow at a faster pace due to an insatiable appetite for foreign education, an expanding middle-class in emerging economies, and technological innovation.

On the other hand, the ‘global’ segment will grow at a slower pace due to a shift in institutional priority for self-funded students at undergraduate level and the increasing cost and competition for recruiting international students.

Transnational educational models also face several growth problems, including qualitative challenges ranging from credentials issues with MOOCs to regulatory and funding complexity with branch campuses, which may negatively influence the expectations of ‘glocal’ students and therefore growth.

Of course, not all international students can be ‘boxed’ into this framework. However, the intention is to provide a broad framework for institutions to recognise the shift that is occurring in the competitive landscape and to help them make the best strategic choices.

To sum up, the dynamics of international student mobility are changing, with the growth of transnational education resulting in new student segments and behaviours.

Institutions need to adapt and align their internationalisation strategies to deliver optimal results by better understanding their changing students.

Dr Rahul Choudaha is the co-founder and CEO at DrEducation and He researches, speaks, writes, and consults on international student trends and its implications for institutional strategies and student success. Choudaha holds a doctorate in higher education from the University of Denver. He is reachable at and @DrEducationBlog.