Growth of International Student Numbers in Higher Education

Will demand for the international student experience switch from West to East in the coming years?

International student recruitment numbers have grown exponentially since the turn of the century, quadrupling to reach five million between 1990 and 2014. By 2025, this number is expected to hit 8 million. So, it’s clear the value for studying abroad is experiencing steady, long-term growth. But just what, exactly, will this student migration look like in the coming decades? Will there be shifts in the composition, direction and demand of students studying abroad? What catalysts are responsible for these shifts?

“The international higher education sector, over the next 10-20 years, will grow, but look different in terms of its offerings and students,” said Dr. Rahul Choudaha, Executive Vice President of Global Engagement and Research at StudyPortals, when we interviewed him for the 2018 Reimagine Education paper, ‘Student Mobility & Demographic Changes’. This change Choudaha alludes to is indicative of the fascinating global forecasts set to influence the international Higher Education (HE) sector in the coming years.

Drivers of student mobility include demographic, economic, political and technological changes. As strict immigration policies in the UK and the US cause a decline in international applicants, countries in Asia are recognizing the economic advantage of investing in their HE sectors. Moreover, technology will continue to rapidly advance the possibilities for international study. These developments bring to mind a pertinent question: will international students continue to stream primarily from East to West?

The British Council predicts China will be responsible for the largest stream of outbound students, hitting 338’000, whilst India will reach 209’000, by 2024. Asian economies are estimated to witness the strongest annual growth rates over the next ten years, which will have an impact on the volume of students studying internationally from this region. Nigeria is also expected to see a boom in it’s tertiary aged population size (18-25), resulting in a greater output of international students. Students from developing countries are more likely to seek study abroad, in part, due to limited domestic capacity. The popularity of destinations like the US, UK, and Canada, ensures they also, by and large, favor the West.

However, study destinations in Asia-Pacific and the Middle-East are actively developing local capacity and building international partnerships to increase the visibility of their HE sectors. Choudaha acknowledges that “emerging destinations in the East will start maturing in terms of their quality and attract more international students.” However, he also notes “technological maturity and adoption rates will enable some of the leading brands from the West to expand their reach and engagement.”

Thus, it seems, the notion that there will be a fundamental shift in demand for international study from the West to the East is unfounded. Instead, the introduction of a much more reciprocal student flow will occur worldwide, enabled by economic and technological advancement. Online education will innovate the reach and engagement of HE, whilst remaining affordable. In this environment, it’s crucial that institutions are constantly evolving to offer new modes of delivery and engagement.

The Reimagine Education Awards tracks this innovation, rewarding those who are making truly ground-breaking inroads in technology and education. The 2018 overall winners, The National Institute of The Deaf, developed the first virtual environment exclusively in sign language. This highlights the idea that international education will not only continue to reach a growing body of students worldwide, but that technology will allow those who have been historically marginalized to participate.

 If you would like to find out more about innovation in Higher Educaiton, take a look at our series of Reimagine Education White Papers here.

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