December 2013 issue

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Global student mobility trends

Latest statistics from OECD's Education at Glance 2013 report show that student mobility is increasing globally, and that a wider range of destinations is also being chosen. Georgina Deacon reports.

Almost 4.3 million students were enrolled in tertiary education at an institution outside their home country in 2011, up from 4.1 million in 2010, according to the latest figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This figure has increased more than five-fold since 1975, when 0.8 million students were in tertiary education overseas. Reasons given for the dramatic increase to 4.3 million students over three decades are said, in the report, to be down to institutions “promoting academic, cultural, social and political ties”.

The findings come from a recent OECD report titled Education at a Glance 2013, which analyses the international mobility of students in OECD countries in 2011. These countries include most EU nations, Australia, Canada, Chile, Israel, Japan, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand and the USA.

The report cites further, “As national economies become more interconnected and participation in education expands, governments and individuals are looking to tertiary education to broaden students’ horizons and help them to better understand the world’s languages, cultures and business methods. Factors driving the increased student mobility range from exploding demand for HE worldwide and the perceived value of studying at prestigious postsecondary institutions abroad, to specific policies that aim to foster student mobility within a geographic region.”

Meanwhile, the USA, the UK and Germany experienced the greatest numbers of international students in their tertiary education providers. Asian students represented 53 per cent of international students enrolled abroad, with the largest numbers coming from China, India and Korea. In terms of OECD countries, students mainly came from Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan. And looking at international students as a percentage of the overall tertiary student body, the figures show that in 2011, Australia (19.8 per cent), the UK (16.8), Switzerland (16.2) and New Zealand (15.6) had the highest ratios.

In Oceania (Australasia), the number of tertiary internationals has tripled since 2000, although the region hosted less than 10 per cent of all international students. Australia was particularly popular with students wishing to study social sciences, business and law, while New Zealand had the highest percentage of OECD and other G20 countries of students studying sciences.

The largest share of students enrolled in tertiary education at an institution outside their home country was in Europe (48 per cent). The subjects most popular here were social sciences, business and law – representing 31 per cent of new overseas enrolments on average across the EU21 – followed by humanities, arts and education.

North America was also a popular choice for international students, with 21 per cent enrolled in Canadian and American tertiary education. The majority of students in the USA came from China (25.2 per cent) and India (14.4 per cent), while the highest proportion from an OECD country was Korea (10.1 per cent).

Despite being the most popular destination for students, the USA’s share of the international student market is shrinking – down from 23 per cent in 2000 to 16.5 per cent in 2011. In contrast, Australia, Korea, New Zealand and Spain grew their share of the market by at least one percentage point, while the UK and Russia increased by two percentage points.

Although English is only the third most spoken language in the world – behind Chinese (Mandarin) and Spanish – the OECD report shows progression towards the adoption of English as a global academic language in 2011. The popularity of English-speaking destinations were reflected in the statistics, and according to the report, 40 per cent of the global increase since 2000 is attributed to enrolments in Australia, Canada, Ireland, the UK and the USA.

“It may also reflect the fact that students intending to study abroad are likely to have learned English in their home country or wish to improve their English language skills through immersion in a native English-speaking context,” the report states. Australia, Canada, UK and USA – along with France and Germany – received more than 50 per cent of international students worldwide.

Another trend detailed in the report is that students often choose to study in a neighbouring country rather than a nation further afield. For example, 56.9 per cent of international students in Slovakia came from the Czech Republic. The tendency was also mirrored in Estonia, with 44.7 per cent of students from Finland; in Germany, with 39.3 per cent of students from Austria; and in Belgium, with 14 per cent of students from France.

Studying in a nearby country was popular among students due to cost advantages, as well as entry and enrolment requirements. Ties between countries, particularly in Europe, were also improved by intra-regional movement. “Some 75 per cent of foreign students enrolled in EU21 countries come from another EU21 country, demonstrating the effect of EU mobility policies,” the report explains. georgina@hothousemedia.com

Distribution of foreign students in tertiary education, by country of destination (2011)

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