As demand for education rises, mobile students explore new destinations
The number of students pursuing studies abroad continues to surge as higher education institutions around the world vie for the best and brightest minds. But there is growing competition for students from emerging regional destinations that may offer more affordable and culturally-relevant programmes of study.
The rise in internationally mobile students* reflects growing university enrolment around the world. In 2012, at least 4 million students went abroad to study, up from 2 million in 2000, representing 1.8% of all tertiary enrolments or 2 in 100 students globally.
Central Asia, home to the most mobile student population, has experienced a steady rise in the number of students studying abroad. This group grew from 67,300 in 2003 to 156,600 in 2012, with the outbound mobility ratio more than doubling from 3.5% to 7.5%. These figures suggest that domestic tertiary enrolment has not kept pace with the growing demand for higher education.
In contrast, students from sub-Saharan Africa, who are the second most mobile, are staying closer to home. According to the latest data, 288,200 students studied abroad in 2012, up from 204,900 in 2003. But, in this period the outbound mobility ratio in the region dropped from 6% in to 4.5%. The shift suggests that domestic higher education systems are expanding steadily.
Three regions have relatively low outbound mobility ratios: South and West Asia, where 1.0% of tertiary students studied abroad), Latin America and the Caribbean (0.9%), and North America (1.4%).
Regional hubs attracting a greater share of the global student population
While traditional destination countries, such as the United States, remain strong magnets for students seeking a high-quality education, new destination countries and regional hubs are competing for a share of the revenue and intellectual capital of internationally mobile students.
In 2012, five destination countries hosted nearly one-half of total mobile students: the United States (hosting 18%), United Kingdom (11%), France (7%), Australia (6%), and Germany (5%). But the top five also saw their share of international enrolment decline from 55% in 2000 to 47% in 2012.
Australia and Japan, traditional destinations in East Asia and the Pacific, are rivaled by newcomers China, Malaysia, the Republic of Korea, Singapore and New Zealand, which hosted 6% of the global share of mobile students in 2012.
In the Arab States, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are making efforts to recruit students from abroad. These three countries hosted 4% of the global share of mobile students.
More students staying closer to home
Regional hubs not only attract a share of the global population of mobile students but are becoming favored destinations for students within regions. Lower travel costs and cultural familiarity are part of the appeal.
In the Arab States, the share of mobile students studying within the region increased from 12% to 26% between 1999 and 2012. The increase in Central and Eastern Europe is from 25% to 37%, and that in sub-Saharan Africa is from 18% to 28%.
The United Arab Emirates (Dubai) now outpaces the United Kingdom in attracting students from the Arab States and has become the third most popular destination (followed by France, the United States) for students from the region.
South Africa attracted 22% of mobile students from sub-Saharan Africa in 2012. Ghana and Uganda host more students from the region than ever before.
In some countries there are more studying abroad than at home**
In approximately eight countries with data, more than one-half of students go abroad to study. In Luxembourg, for example, where 42% of the population of tertiary education age was enrolled in higher education in 2012, about one-third studied abroad.
Top 10 destination countries:
- United States (18% of total mobile students)
- United Kingdom (11%)
- France (7%)
- Australia (6%)
- Germany (5%)
- Russian Federation (4%)
- Japan (4%)
- Canada (3%)
- China (2%)
- Italy (2%)
Top 10 countries of origin of mobile students:
- China (694,400 students studying abroad)
- India (189,500)
- Republic of Korea (123,700)
- Germany (117,600)
- Saudi Arabia (62,500)
- France (62,400)
- United States (58,100)
- Malaysia (55,600)
- Viet Nam (53,800)
- Iran (51,600)
Regions that host the largest number of mobile students:
- North America and Western Europe (57% of total mobile students )
- East Asia and the Pacific (20%)
- Central and Eastern Europe (10%)
Countries and territories that have more students studying abroad than at home:
- Turks and Caicos Islands
For more statistics on students flows into and out of more than 100 countries, please visit the UIS Data Centre.
* The term “internationally mobile students” refers to students who have crossed a national border to study, or are enrolled in a distance learning programme abroad. These students are not residents or citizens of the country where they study. Internationally mobile students are a sub-group of “foreign students”, a category that includes those who have permanent residency in the host country. For this reason, the number of foreign students, globally, tends to be higher.
Data presented here are drawn from the UIS, as well as the OECD and Eurostat data collections on mobile students. These data cover only students who pursue a higher education degree outside their country of residence (so-called “degree mobility”) and exclude students who are under short-term, for-credit study and exchange programmes that last less than a full school year (so-called “credit mobility”).
**Data on the number of outbound mobile students have limitations. When host countries do not specify the country of origin of mobile students, the number of students from a given country studying abroad is underreported. The problem is magnified when countries that host a large number of students from abroad, such as China, Egypt, Lebanon, Singapore and Uganda, do not report where these students come from. Consult the list of countries that host more than 2,000 mobile students so see the gaps in data.