More than 4 million students are studying abroad for the first time, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The OECD’s estimate of the number of international students only reached 3 million in 2005. But the new edition of its Education at a Glance compendium of statistics puts the total at 4.1 million in 2010.
The report said that international student numbers had doubled since 2005. The proportion of international students had also grown in 15 of the 18 OECD nations, the exceptions being Norway, New Zealand and the United States.
“The rise in the number of students enrolled abroad since 1975 stems from various factors, from an interest in promoting academic, cultural, social and political ties between countries (especially as the European Union was taking shape), to a substantial increase in global access to tertiary education, to reduced transportation costs,” the report said. “The internationalisation of labour markets for highly skilled individuals has also given people an incentive to gain international experience as part of their studies.”
According to UNESCO, 177 million students participated in formal tertiary education worldwide, an increase of 77 million students since 2000. No OECD country cut spending on higher education between 2000 and 2009, although some, like the UK, had altered the balance of spending away from the state towards private sources. Largely because of the trebling of tuition fees in England, the UK had seen the biggest increase – 72 per cent – in spending per student over the same period.
However, Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s deputy director for education, said at a briefing in London that the UK had “probably the most advanced system in the OECD for supporting students”. And he said that countries that charged no fees had made the least progress in broadening participation in higher education. “It is total investment that counts, not the public/private split.”
In Japan and Korea, there were high fees and little state support. “Education has such a high value in those societies that parents find the money,” Dr Schleicher said. “I’m not sure that it would work anywhere in the Western world.”
Dr Schleicher said the report suggested that, even during recession and allowing for fees and foregone earnings while studying, graduates continued to enjoy a substantial salary premium over those who did not go to university. The demand for highly-educated workers is still rising faster than the supply,” he said.