Open Doors – Foreign students flock to America

Higher education institutions across the United States have experienced an astonishing 40% increase in international student enrolments over the past decade. In the current academic year, nearly 820,000 foreigners are studying in US universities and colleges, a record number and up from less than 590,000 10 years ago.

Despite the huge rise in numbers, overseas students still comprise less than 4% of America’s 21 million enrolments in higher education and while the number of internationally mobile students around the world has doubled over the past decade, the US share has actually decreased by 10%.

Despite the huge rise in numbers, overseas students still comprise less than 4% of America’s 21 million higher education students.

A report released by the Institute of International Education last Monday says that 55,000 new foreign students are now enrolled in US higher education institutions compared with the previous year and that most of the growth was driven by China and Saudi Arabia.

The Open Doors report notes that, as is happening in other Western countries, students from China far outnumber those from any of the 24 other nations whose students make up the vast majority enrolled in America.

Few countries around the world, however, do not have some students undertaking higher education courses in the US.

The report says the expansion in total enrolments of international students has continued unabated for seven years while the rate of increase has risen steadily for the past three years.

A strong increase in international students enrolling for the first time indicates the growth trend is likely to continue, it says.

New enrolments were up 10% on the 2011-12 academic year, which also saw a 7% rise. Both total and new enrolments had slowed after the economic slowdown in 2007 and 2008, but both have rebounded to previous high rates of growth, the report says.

Where the students come from

The 235,600 Chinese students studying in America now comprise nearly 29% of all foreigners enrolled in US higher education and their numbers have jumped by a remarkable 21.4% over the last 12 months.

The ever-rising numbers are a measure of the increasing size of China’s middle-class and the desire by ambitious young Chinese to gain an American credential.

Students from Saudi Arabia are now the fourth most numerous on American campuses following a 30.5% jump in their enrolments to 44,600.

But the 97,000 students from India and the 70,600 from South Korea were down by 3.5% and 2.3% respectively on the previous year.

Surprisingly, given the tense relations between the US government and Iran, the number of Iranians studying in the US rose by 25% to 8,700 compared with a 25.6% increase for students from the Middle East in general.

Iran now has more of its citizens studying in the US than any other Middle Eastern country except Saudi Arabia, while Iraq had a 33% increase for its students to 1,070 and Oman an 82% rise to 980.

What is being studied

Among the changing ratios in student numbers, foreign undergraduate enrolments increased by 30% this academic year to 340,000, which represents a 41.5% rise over the decade.

Postgraduate numbers rose by 17% to 311,000 – the second year in a row when undergraduates were more numerous, while another 75,500 foreigners were enrolled in non-degree courses.

As is also the case in Australia, the UK and many other host countries, the most popular fields of study for foreign students in America – especially among the Chinese and Indians – are business and management, followed by engineering, maths and computer science, social sciences and physical and life sciences.

Business and management attracted 22% of foreign students in the US this academic year, a 7% rise on the previous year; engineering had 19% of the total – up by 9%; maths and computer science 9.5% and a rise of 8.7%; social sciences 9% with a marked increase of nearly 11%; and physical and life sciences 8.4%, up by just under 5%.

Americans abroad

On the other hand, America’s higher education students seem far more reluctant to go abroad to study than foreigners wanting to enrol in US institutions.

Just over 283,000 Americans went out of the country to undertake studies for academic credit in the 2011-12 academic year, with the UK, Italy, Spain, France and China the top five destination countries in that order, and Germany, Australia, Cost Rica, Ireland and Japan making up the top 10.

But the number studying abroad did increase by 3%, with more going to Latin America and China while a rebound occurred in those going to Japan as courses there reopened in the summer of 2011 after the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011.

Although going overseas to study by American students has more than tripled over the past two decades, from about 71,000 students in 1991-92 to the record number two decades later, fewer than 10% of all college students study abroad at some point during their undergraduate years.

The Open Doors report is published annually by the Institute of International Education with the US Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Launching the report in Washington, Assistant Secretary of State Evan M Ryan said international education promoted relationship building and knowledge exchange between the people and communities of the US and those around the world.

“These exchanges are necessary to solve global challenges [and] the connections made during international education experiences last a lifetime,” Ryan said. “International students enrich classrooms, campuses and communities in ways that endure long after students have returned home.”