International students to reach 3.8 million by 2024

A new British Council report has predicted that there will be 3.8 million mobile higher education students globally by 2024, up from just over three million two years ago. India and China will contribute 35% of the global growth in international students.

The most popular destination countries for students – the United States, United Kingdom and Australia – will continue to attract the largest numbers of students, but there will be more competition from emerging host countries such as China and Malaysia. Also, new major sending countries are arising such as Nigeria, Saudia Arabia and Indonesia.

The future of the world’s mobile students to 2024 builds on the findings of a 2012 British Council report, The Shape of Things to Come: Higher education global trends and emerging opportunities to 2020.

It looks at 56 countries, focuses on and extends the forecasts of student mobility to 2024 and, according to the council, includes analyses of three scenarios in international education “to better understand the possible effects of the future global environment”.

The report, released at the Australian International Education Conference in Canberra last week, is not openly available but can be purchased from the British Council for US$250.

The forecasts

The research finds that the global gross higher education ratio will continue to rise until 2024, with India’s enrolment growth the highest in the world. Overall enrolments will increase by 32 million – 1.4% – a year, to 196 million worldwide.

By 2024, India, China, Indonesia and the US would be home to more than half of the world’s 18- to 22-year-old population, “despite the fact that the Chinese tertiary-aged population is projected to fall by roughly 40 million in the next decade”.

With international education highly valued by individuals, institutions and governments, the report points out, the global higher education sector “has shown strong, sustained growth in past decades despite intermittent economic uncertainty and demographic change”.

Globally, the British Council research indicates, numbers of “outbound mobile” international students would grow by on average 1.8% a year and would reach 3.85 million by 2024. This is down from growth of around 6% a year in recent years.

Sending countries

The big bilateral student flows would continue to be from China and India to traditional host markets such as the United States and United Kingdom.

By 2024, the mobile student population from China is forecast to be 855,000 while India will send 376,000 students – together contributing a third of all mobile students globally.

However, these numbers may not be achieved if economic growth rate forecasts for the two countries are not realised. And with China rapidly developing its own higher education system, demand among Chinese students to study abroad may decline.

If economic growth in China and India declines, the forecast number of international students globally will drop by 52,000.

The report says that Germany could become the third largest sender of students by 2024. “Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Nepal, Pakistan, Iraq, Brazil, Turkey and Indonesia will emerge as important origin markets,” says the report.

Demographic declines could lower the numbers of mobile students from South Korea and Japan, which have been major sources of international students in the past.

Host countries

The United States, Britain, Australia, Germany and Canada will continue to be the world’s major destinations of international students, the British Council believes.

America will be the “major beneficiary” of growth in student mobility from China and India, while Britain will benefit from the large markets of India, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The research forecasts that India will replace China as the UK’s top student sender.

“Flows between Nigeria and the UK, Saudi Arabia and the US and UK, Pakistan and the UK, and Nepal and the US will be among the top 10 fastest growing bilateral flows between 2011 and 2024,” says the report.

However, growth in the number of international students going to UK universities will be slower in the next 13 years than the government hopes. The British Council predicts that by 2024 there will be 568,000 international students in the UK, 29% up on 2011 – but far less than government’s anticipated 15% to 20% annual growth over the next five years.

Growth in international students going to Australia will be even slower, largely because of a strong currency and the high cost of living, with the country attracting only an extra 71,000 students by 2024, the council forecasts.

It predicts that China – as well as Malaysia and maybe India – could become major host countries in the coming decade. Last year China hosted 328,000 international students and its goal is half a million international students within the next two years.