By Matthew Knott, Editor of Study Travel Magazine

International student mobility in the postgraduate sector was the focus of one of our news stories this week, based on a report from the British Council projecting trends until 2024.

The British Council utilises a model based on demographic trends and GDP growth to predict outbound mobility trends from 23 source countries to six key postgraduate destinations (UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Germany and Japan), and concludes that India will be the largest growing market in absolute numbers over the next decade, to the tune of an additional 121,000 students to those countries.

The demographic issue is an important consideration as China’s tertiary-level population is set to decline by some 30,000,000 by 2024. GDP increases will continue to fuel growth in Chinese students heading overseas for now, the British Council says, but it is nonetheless a warning against over reliance on China in the long run.

Indeed the author of the report, Zainab Malik, said the scale of dependence on China and India – the two largest markets – had surprised the research team. By 2024, China is expected to have 338,000 students on postgraduate programmes in the six analysed destination countries, while India will have 209,000. As comfortably the two most populous nations on earth, dominance of mobility is perhaps inevitable, but the next largest source country, Nigeria, will be sending less than a fifth of the Indian total.

Malik rightly highlighted the importance of diversifying recruitment strategies, and there is a danger of financial overreliance on one or two markets, not to mention a threat to nationality balance within the classroom.

The example of the UK over recent years is a case in point. Political decisions and immigration settings are beyond the scope of the report, but some might consider that the projected 16,000 increase in Indian postgraduate students in the UK sits somewhat uneasily with recent declines. A report on recruitment trends by Universities UK last month stated the number of Indian students commencing courses in the last two years halved.

In a recent cover story in STM on post-study work rights, Dr Paul Chellakumar, Patron of the Association of Accredited Advisors on Overseas Education (AAAOE) in India, said the removal of automatic work rights, and the clumsy way it was enforced, had damaged the UK’s brand appeal. “The UK government has killed the duck yielding golden eggs”, he lamented.
Along with India, Nigeria and Indonesia were identified as the two fastest growing markets in percentage terms in the report, and it will be interesting to track the developments in agency business there over coming years as universities worldwide increasingly target students there.

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