‘Sharp drop’ expected in global student mobility growth

Global outbound student mobility will likely slow over the next decade as countries invest more domestically in developing their own higher education provision, according to forecasts in a new British Council research report.

“In many ways we are on the precipice of massive and speedy change,” the report concludes.

The actual and projected slowdown in the global growth of long-term outbound students is in large part attributable to local investment in higher education, which has shifted traditional patterns of student mobility, the British Council report says.

“Currently many students go abroad because there is neither capacity nor high-quality education at home, but as this changes, outbound mobility will suffer as a consequence,” the report says.

Growth in the rate of outbound mobility of international students is predicted to slow from an annual average of 5.7% (2000-15) to 1.7% annual average growth to 2027.

“Global outbound mobility is projected to slow, and the number of countries competing to host international students is rising; many of these potential destination countries are offering high-quality education at affordable prices, complete with options for post-study work or residence rights,” the report says.

However, as has been the case from 2012 to 2015 in China, in markets with strengthening tertiary education sectors, the propensity to study abroad may decline while absolute numbers of students studying abroad may increase due to the rising number of tertiary enrolments.

China and India are forecast to account for 60% of the global growth in outbound students to 2027. Their combined growth in outbound students will outpace total growth in all of the other selected markets.

The majority of countries are projected to experience growth in their tertiary enrolment ratios with the largest rises in Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Mauritius and Sri Lanka.

Top growth markets for outbound students in the next 10 years include China, India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Bangladesh; while South Korea, Malaysia, Venezuela, Hong Kong and Singapore are projected to have the largest declines in outbound students to 2027.

International Student Mobility to 2027: Local investment, global outcomes examines how the student mobility landscape will change over the next decade. It is based on demographic, economic and tertiary enrolment projections for 56 key higher education markets, using United Nations/UNESCO data.

“Local education provision has already been a significant factor in slowing the rate of international student flows. In a tumultuous global context, visas and student safety are often cited as factors that influence the sector but the impact of domestic investment on global student mobility has been profound,” the report says.

The growth in local tertiary enrolment ratios globally will be the key driver for outbound mobility to 2027, it argues.

Provision of domestic, high-quality higher education in emerging and advancing economies has “profoundly altered historical patterns of international student mobility”, the report says. Students are faced with an increased supply of excellent higher education options globally and attractive incentives to study in a multitude of countries, including – in some cases – their own home country.

In China, for example, as the tertiary enrolment ratio went from 27% in 2012 to 42% in 2015, its outbound mobility ratio fell from 2.1% to 1.8%. China and India are forecast to experience the highest growth in local tertiary enrolments to 2027.

More countries developing their higher education offer gives young people more choices. Historically students have gone overseas due to insufficient capacity or quality education at home, it adds.

As a result, the market share of international students globally is dispersing and diversifying, and experts have long been predicting a slowdown in long-term outbound students, the report says.

Mobility levels may remain high where demand outstrips supply, but as increased political and financial attention is put towards higher education, outward mobility may suffer and institutions in destination countries will have to rely more heavily on partnerships, transnational education and distance models for growth.

Many of the top growth markets in this study are also on China’s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative priority list for partnerships and engagement.

Warning to UK higher education sector

The British Council has highlighted the implications for higher education in the United Kingdom, warning that the sector “cannot rely on perceptions of high-quality education to attract, recruit and retain international students”.

“The data suggests that with a slowdown in outbound mobility, institutions must also diversify their modes of delivery. This is especially true of the UK, where growth in international students has slowed in past years to below other host destinations,” the report says.

The report argues that the UK’s growth in non-UK enrolments has remained significantly slower than the global average.

In an increasingly competitive marketplace, UK institutions must widen their internationalisation strategies, the report says. They will need to consider diversifying their source markets, building different partnerships and providing different forms of overseas delivery as well as directly recruiting students, the report says.

“Experts have been projecting a slowdown in outbound students and we are seeing that now at the global level,” said Zainab Malik, report author and research director for Education Intelligence, the British Council’s global higher education research service.

“As students reconsider the concept of high-quality education to include factors like return on investment and employability, the UK is at a disadvantage given its current visa policy and the emergence of diverse and attractive offers from new higher education destinations.”

Either by employing more varied strategies, including transnational education, or by diversifying recruitment markets, UK universities must become more strategic to remain competitive in higher education to 2027, the report says.

Against these arguments the report also notes that the main reason for the growth in the absolute number of students studying abroad in the next 10 years is the increasing percentage of students enrolling in higher education.

Increases in youth populations

One of the striking findings in the report is the projected increases in youth populations (aged 15-24) around the world, but particularly in Africa.

The African youth population (15- to 24-year-olds) is projected to grow and in fact outnumber Asian young people by 2100. As of 2015, Asia was home to 60% of 15- to 24-year-olds and Africa was home to 19%, whereas in 2050 Asia will house 49% of these young people globally compared to 34% in Africa.

As African populations grow through the rest of the century, the challenge that exists not only for the education sector but also for services sectors and governments generally is how best to equip and provide opportunities for this group of young people.

The predicted top 10 fastest growing youth populations (aged 18-22) between now and 2027 are Nigeria, India, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Kenya, Angola, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq and the Philippines. The top 10 fastest declining youth populations are Poland, Japan, United States, Malaysia, Germany, Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam, Brazil and China.

The impact on mobility depends on how far tertiary provision is extended to meet growth in demand stemming from population growth.

The report predicts that African countries will have five of the 10 fastest growing tertiary enrolment ratios in the decade to 2027, including four in the top five (Ethiopia 8.2%, Angola 6.8%, Indonesia 5.2%, Ghana 4.8%, Kenya 4.7%). Nigeria is eighth on the list with 4.1%.

With the exception of Ireland, the top 20 growth countries are in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

However, the top 10 growth markets for outbound students up to 2027 in terms of absolute numbers are China (245,000 increase), India (185,000), Pakistan (32,000), Nigeria (30,000), Bangladesh (27,000), Saudi Arabia (30,000), France (20,000), Nepal (20,000), Indonesia (18,000) and Kenya (16,000).

The top 10 ‘shrinking’ markets for outbound students are South Korea (-35,000), Malaysia (-10,000), Venezuela (-8,000), Hong Kong (-5,000), Singapore (-4,000), Ukraine (-4,000), Romania (-4,000), Brazil (-3,000), Belarus (-3,000), and Germany (-3,000).