Record number of foreign students to enrol in 2014

An estimated 900,000 foreign students are expected to enrol in American higher education institutions this year with the big North American nation experiencing an astonishing 40+% increase in international student enrolments over the past decade.

Indeed, 10 years ago, fewer than 600,000 foreigners were undertaking courses in US universities and colleges. Despite this huge jump in numbers, overseas students still comprise less than 4% of America’s 21 million higher education students.

And although the number of internationally mobile students around the world has more than doubled since 2000, the US share has actually fallen by 10%.

As is happening across other countries in the West, students from China far outnumber those from any of the 24 other nations whose students make up the vast majority enrolled in America.

As University World News reported last November, the 235,600 Chinese students studying in America comprise nearly 29% of all foreigners enrolled in US higher education and their numbers have jumped by more than 21% over the past 12 months. The ever-rising numbers are a measure of both the increasing size of China’s middle class and the desire by ambitious young Chinese to gain an American credential.

Apart from the Chinese, students from Saudi Arabia are now the fourth most numerous on American campuses following a 30.5% jump in their enrolments to 44,600 in 2013. 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 in 2013, compared with a 26% 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.

On the other hand, America’s university and college students seem far more reluctant to go abroad to study than the foreigners competing to enrol in US institutions. In the last academic year, fewer than 285,000 Americans left home to study for credit courses – less than a third the number of foreigners arriving.

Of those departing America’s shores, the top five destination countries were Britain, Italy, Spain, France and China in that order, with Germany, Australia, Cost Rica, Ireland and Japan making up the top 10. At the same time, though, the number studying abroad did rise by 3%, with increasing numbers heading to Latin America and China.

Contrasting patterns

Indian and Chinese graduate students are showing contrasting enrolment patterns at US universities, according to a recent report released by the Council of Graduate Schools.

First-time enrolments of Indian students in US graduate schools increased by 40% after two years of flat growth, whereas the number of Chinese grew by 5% compared with 20% growth over the previous two years.

“Student mobility is a complex phenomenon with multiple variables influencing the future directions,” says Dr Rahul Choudaha, an international higher education expert who writes regularly for University World News and blogs at http://DrEducation.com on trends and insights related to student mobility and transnational education.

“The current state of graduate student mobility can be explained by at least three primary dimensions: institutional side, student side and external environment,” Choudaha says. “One of the biggest contributors to the spike in Indian numbers has been the higher acceptance of Indian students by masters level public institutions outside the 100 largest universities awarding graduate degrees to international students.”

He notes that greater numbers of Indian students are enrolling at institutions outside the top 100 compared with their Chinese counterparts. Indeed, Indian first-time enrolments at institutions outside top 100 increased by 73%, compared with a mere 2% rise for the Chinese.

And, because nearly two out of three Indian students enrol in STEM-related fields – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – the number taking engineering and physical and earth sciences also shot up at the institutions outside the top 100.

Choudaha says that although only one in every six international students enrol in 'masters focused' institutions, the majority of growth for Indian students seems to be driven by the public colleges. Many of these have been compelled to look at recruiting international students “to meet their financial goals”.

“At the same time, some masters institutions which usually struggle to attract Indian students have also experienced an over-dependence on Chinese students. Thus, with a combination of aggressive outreach and higher offer rates, many masters focused institutions seem to be successful this year with Indian students,” Choudaha says.

Following President Obama’s State of the Union address last Tuesday, in which he again acknowledged that immigration reform remained a top priority for the nation, Marlene M Johnson, Executive Director of the Association of International Educators, urged Congress “to act swiftly to enact legislation that expands our ability to attract the world’s talented students and scholars to our colleges and universities, strengthens our economy, and reclaims the values that make this nation a land of opportunity, equality and freedom for all”.

“Our most recent economic study determined that international students and their families contribute $24 billion to the US economy and create or support 313,000 jobs,” Johnson said.

“Without reform, the United States risks losing the economic, academic and cultural contributions from these globally mobile students as they turn to other countries with friendlier immigration policies.”