International student mobility is shifting with traditional destinations losing market share

Once a barometer of both university internationalisation and internationalisation of the broader economy, the presence of international students is now a core part of the student body for the world’s leading universities. The global population of students who move to another country to study continues to rise, reaching almost 5 million in 2014 – more than double the 2.1 million internationally mobile students in 2000 – with an annual increase of 10%.1 The OECD has projected that, with demographic changes, international student mobility is likely to reach 8 million students per year by 2025.

After remaining largely stable over the last decade, the balance of host countries is beginning to change. For now, the USA remains the most popular country for international students, followed by the UK, Germany, France and Australia, with half of all international students pursuing degrees in these five countries. However, the USA and UK’s traditional market share is declining, with Australia and Canada increasing in popularity alongside intraregional mobility (those who choose to study abroad within their home region).

As has been the case for the last few years, the most mobile students remain those from Asia, with China, India and South Korea the leading source of international students. Almost one in six international students is Chinese, and Asian students account for 53% of all students studying abroad. Not all of these students travel far: Japan and Korea have high numbers of international students from neighboring countries: 81% of international students in Japan and 75% in Korea come from other East Asian countries. British students remain much less likely to study abroad than students of other European countries, with 6% percent spending some or all of their time working for a degree in a university overseas.

At present India is the UK’s second largest source of international postgraduates (after China), but a recent British Council report indicates that demographic changes and increasing demand means that the percentage of international students from Nigeria is likely to overtake the percentage from India by 2024. It predicts that the number of Indian postgraduates in particular will form only 9% of the growth in international student numbers to 2024 – around 24,000 students – compared with 29,000 postgraduates from Nigeria. Changes in UK visa regulations have led to a fall in the number of Indian students in the UK, as highlighted in the 2014 Trends report, in contrast to the USA where more than half of all international students come from India. In contrast, the number of students from China studying in UK universities is strong and growing, with a 44% increase over the next decade predicted by the British Council.