Mass movement of the world’s students

Nearly five million international students are likely to be studying for degrees outside their own countries this year in what has become one of humanity’s great mass movements.

Since 2000, when 2.1 million students left home to enrol in a foreign college or university, the number has increased by a staggering 140%, an average of 10% every year.

According to the most recent (2011) statistics, the United States attracts the most foreign students with 16.5% of the total enrolled overseas. In terms of their power of attraction, the US was followed by the United Kingdom with 13%, Germany 6.3%, France 6.2% and Australia 6.1%.

These five countries hosted about half of all higher education students pursuing their studies abroad in 2011. But, as the numbers going abroad has risen, so the share of international students choosing the US has fallen – from almost 23%, or 475,000 students in 2000, to 16.5% or 710,000 in 2011.

Top five source countries

China, of course, has become the world’s giant with more of its students studying abroad than any other country. Some 723,000 mainland Chinese were undertaking degree courses in a foreign country in 2011 – nearly one in six of all these internationally mobile young people.

The next biggest source countries were India, with 223,000 or 5.2% of the overseas degree-seekers, South Korea with 138,600 or 3.2%, Germany with 132,000 or 3.1% and France with 79,600 or 1.9%. The five nations accounted for 30% or 1.3 million of the international students away from their homes.

One in four of the Chinese students enrolled outside China chose the US, followed by those going to Japan with 13%, Australia 12.5%, Britain 10% and Korea 6.6%.

Australia’s heavy reliance on Asian students to boost its university coffers with their fees is shown by the startling fact that they account for more than eight in every 10 international students enrolled in Australian institutions in 2011. When these numbers fall, as they have in the past, individual institutions can come close to going bankrupt.

Yojana Sharma reports on a 92-page document on mobility in the Asia Pacific, released by UNESCO Bangkok last Wednesday, that highlights the growing significance of Asia in this area, as in so many others. The report points out that 53% of the world’s mobile students are now from Asia.

In this special series on the topic of mobility, University World News correspondents describe the flow of students away from and into different countries. They also highlight the marked contrast, in Western countries especially, between the number of foreigners they enrol and the far smaller proportion of their own students willing to go beyond their borders. In Commentary, we also have an article focusing on student mobility in Asia.