International student enrolment at US universities goes up by nearly 5%


The US has always been popular with overseas students, perpetually leading international student population tables. The world sat up and paid attention, therefore, when it was revealed that, though total enrolment went up by 3%, new international student numbers increased by only a worrying 1% in 2009-10. This year’s Open Doors report, from the International Institute of Education (IIE), however, indicates that the system is well on the way to recovery, with new international student numbers increasing by 6% and total enrolment by 4.7% in 2010-11. “Students and families from all over the world continue to choose the US over other countries because of the high quality of education, which stresses interdisciplinary approaches, student participation and critical thinking,” says Allan E. Goodman, President and CEO of the IIE.

The 2011 report, released on November 14th, shows that 723,277 overseas students were studying in the US in 2010-2011 – an increase of 32,354 over the 2009-2010 figure. This increase in numbers is largely courtesy of China, which sent 157,558 students to the US, 23.3% (or 29,736 students) more than the preceding year. India is in second place, sending just over 100,000 students – a figure which is, however, down 1% as compared to the previous year – and South Korea is third, with its 75,000 students representing an increase of 1.7%.

Although this top three remains unchanged, some interesting patterns have also emerged, among them as the increase of traffic from countries experiencing political unrest. Also noteworthy was the 22,704 students from Saudi Arabia studying in the US – an increase of 46.3%, which no other country can match. Though it only accounts for 0.8% of the total, Iran sent a significantly higher number of students too (18.9%).

Traffic from Japan, on the other hand, dropped off significantly. In 2009-2010, there were 24,842 Japanese students studying in the US, but a year later the figure was 21,290. This decline of 14.3%, was the sharpest recorded by any country this year. Kenya followed Japan with its student numbers declining by 13.3%.
Business and management (21.5%), engineering (18.7%) and life sciences (8.8%) lead the pack when it comes to the most popular subject areas. Other in-demand areas of study were maths and computer science (8.9% between them), social sciences (8.8%) and fine and applied arts (5.1%). Although only accounting for a relatively small number of students (4.5%), demand for intensive English language courses went up by massive 24%, with Saudi Arabia (29.1%), Japan (10.8%) and Venezuela (11.9%) sending the greatest numbers of students for these courses.

As has consistently been the case, graduate programs were more in demand than bachelor’s degrees. 219,853 overseas students, constituting 34%, of the total, were enrolled on Bachelors programs in 2010-2011, an increase of 6.8% over the previous year. Enrolment on graduate programs—including master’s, doctoral and professional degrees—nearly touched 300,000 and accounted for 45.8% of the total international student enrolments.

The University of Southern California (8,615), University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign (7,991) and New York University (7,988) hosted the most doctoral students. For Masters programs, the University of Bridgeport (2,582), California State University-Northridge (2,579) and San Jose University (2,566) lead the way, and Brigham Young University-Hawaii Campus (1,000), Mount Holyoke College (595) and Utah Valley State College’s (466) professional graduate courses attracted the highest numbers.

Personal and family funds continue to be the method most students use to fund their studies, with more than 63% of international students employing this method of finance. Financial support from a US education institution (22.9%) was the second most common option followed by a current job (5.2%). “Undergraduate students, from China in particular, are coming to the US in greater numbers with support from personal and family funds. Some governments are also investing in international education as a top policy priority. This includes providing funding for programs and scholarships for their students to study abroad so that they can build ties with other countries and bring new knowledge and skills back,” Goodman observes.

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