Global HE mobility growth slowing

16, September, 2014


The number of international students pursuing higher education courses overseas increased to 4.5 million in 2012, according to the latest data released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), although growth slowed compared with previous years.



Source: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators


The Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators report reveals that global mobility in higher education has increased from 800,000 students in 1975 to over 4.5 million in 2012.

The latest figure represents an increase of around 2.5 per cent and an additional 100,000 students compared with 2011, suggesting a slowing of the growth trajectory when compared with five per cent growth in the previous year and an average annual growth of seven per cent between 2000 and 2012.

“In the current economic climate, shrinking support for scholarships and grants, as well as tighter budgets for individuals, may slow the pace of student mobility,” said the OECD report. “On the other hand, limited labour market opportunities in students’ countries of origin may increase the attractiveness of studying abroad as a way to gain a competitive edge, and thus boost student mobility.”

As previously reported, recent forecasts of higher education mobility trends have predicted a slowing of demand over coming years due to market saturation and demographic changes.

The market share of the USA – the largest host country – declined slightly to 16 per cent in 2012, while the UK retained 13 per cent share in second place. Germany, France and Australia each had six per cent share of international students in 2012, while Canada received five per cent. These top six host countries combined received more than half of the world’s international students.

The OECD report shows that between 2000 and 2012 several countries have increased market share of international students: the UK, Australia, Canada, Russia, Japan, Spain, China, Italy, Austria, New Zealand, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Korea.

In terms of international students as a percentage of the overall student body, Australia had the highest ratio among the major destination countries at 18 per cent. The UK (17 per cent), New Zealand (16), Switzerland (16) and Austria (15) also had double-figure proportions of international students.

All reporting countries, with the exception of Germany, had a higher proportion of international students enrolled at advanced research programme level than any other level. In Switzerland, New Zealand and the UK more than 40 per cent of total students enrolled on advanced research programmes in 2012 were international.

Asia remains comfortably the largest source continent, providing 53 per cent of all higher education international students in 2012 – identical to its share the previous year. China alone accounted for 22 per cent of all international students worldwide, followed by India, which provided 5.8 per cent of the total.

Japan was the most Asia-dependent destination, sourcing 94 per cent of students from its home continent in 2012, followed by Korea (93 per cent), Australia (82 per cent), the USA (73 per cent) and New Zealand (70 per cent).

Globally, 82 per cent of international students were enrolled in G20 countries, while 75 per cent were enrolled in OECD countries.

The OECD report also notes the propensity of international students to study in a neighbouring country. Across all OECD states, an average of 21 per cent of international students came from a country sharing a land or maritime border; Japan (81 per cent) had the highest ratio, with the majority of its students sourced from China and Korea.


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