More Studying Overseas; US Continues to Lose International Student Market Share

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s annual Education at a Glance report,there were 4.12 million students enrolled in a higher education program outside of their country of citizenship in 2010.  (The information was collected from 34 OECD member countries, in addition to other non-member G-20 countries: Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.)  International students comprised 2.3% of all tertiary students vs. 2.1% in 2000.

Below are some more relevant statistics:

  • A total of 177 million students were attending a postsecondary institution in their home countries or abroad, an increase of 7% over 2009.
  •  In 1975, when the first Education at a Glance report was published, there were only 800,000 students studying overseas.
  •  52.5% were from an Asian country, with China (17%), India (5.9%) and Korea (3.7%) the three largest sources of internationally mobile students.

Contributing Factors to the Continued Growth of International Academic Mobility

As the report notes, “A significant portion of students coming from G20 non-OECD countries includes the better-performing students, natural candidates for public or private support, or students who have a relatively high socio-economic background. This implies that student mobility cannot only bring stature to tertiary institutions’ academic programs, but also economic benefits to the host country’s education systems.

“In the current economic context, shrinking support for scholarships and grants to support student mobility – as well as tightening budgets among individuals – may diminish the pace of student mobility. On the other hand, limited labor market opportunities in students’ countries of origin may lower the opportunity costs of studying abroad, and help increase student mobility.”

As a September 2012 World Education Services (WES) article entitled International Academic Mobility Continues to Grow Despite Economic Downturn, points out, “countries and institutions are hungry for the influx of capital and innovation that skilled students bring, and as such are doing everything they can to attract them. Seizing upon the currently unchecked demand for cross-border education, countries and institutions are implementing specific and coordinated efforts to promote themselves to international students. National immigration policies are also playing a role. While some national policy choices have, or are, restricting student flow to certain countries, the emergent trend appears to be towards incentivizing foreign students, whether through easier visa procedures, more generous access to the labor market, or post-graduation residency options.”  The US is also moving in this direction under President Obama, albeit at a glacial pace.

Top Receiving Countries

Developed countries hosted 83% of all international students (77% in an OECD country).  The U.S. remains the leading host but continues to lose market share, which has decreased from 23% in 2000 to 16.6% in 2009.  The UK is number two with 13% of total international enrollment, followed by Australia at 6.6%, Germany at 6.4% and France at 6.3%.


According to the Vietnam Ministry of Education and Training (MoET), there were over 100,000 young Vietnamese studying at institutions in 49 countries and territories in 2011, 90% of whom were self-financing.  The top five receiving countries were…

  • Australia (25,000)
  • United States (14,888)
  • China (12,500)
  • Singapore (7,000)
  • UK (6,000)

Rounding out the top ten are France (5,540), Russia (5,000), Germany (3,870), Japan (3,500)/Canada (3,500) and South Korea (3,000).

With a domestic college and university enrollment of 1.9 million, this means that 5% of all Vietnamese students enrolled in a postsecondary institution are studying overseas.  With an 8th place ranking among all sending countries, Vietnam remains a bright spot for US higher education in terms of both quantity and quality of students.

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