Fall, 2017 International Student Trends


Fall, 2017 International Student Trends

Although all of the fall, 2017 international student enrollment reports are not known and although no one has a crystal ball, I think it is safe to write an article about the clear enrollment winners and losers for the fall semester.

Clearly countries like Canada and Australia enrolled an increasing number of international students. Clearly the impact of Brexit and the Trump election has affected the decreased number of international students enrolling in those two countries.

Clearly the pivot to Asia has happened with China and other countries in Asia and Southeast Asia enrolling increased number of international and study abroad students for this semester.

Clearly the “new” international student, the digital student, will increase the number of international student enrollments but in a different way.  Digital students, especially in Africa, will enroll in international courses but they may never leave their home countries.

Clearly the impact of nationalism, especially in several countries in eastern Europe, will impact the migration of students from those countries to other parts of the world.

Clearly it is no longer possible to write and implement international strategic recruitment plans without researching the economic, political and societal trends taking place in countries of recruitment.  

Clearly it is time to change the way international deans and recruiters plan for future international student enrollments.

I have spent the past three years researching and studying the way international student trends are changing. Some of the changes are subtle, like the dynamic “soft power” higher education initiatives of China in countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Others are not so subtle. No longer can we separate where international students study and the Brexit vote or Trump election. Both events have, and will continue to impact, the enrollments of international students not just in this year but for years to come.

More predictions to come.

The Impact of Political and Economic Changes in China on Future International Recruitment

The Impact of Political and Economic Changes in China on Future International Recruitment

Some international higher education deans may disagree with me that worldwide political and economic changes will benefit China by increasing its political and economic influence in Asia and around the world. But I believe in time China will emerge as a dominant country on the world stage. The Time magazine columnist, Ian Bremmer, predicts that American international leadership, a constant since 1945, has ended. According to Mr. Bremmer, the United States has become the single biggest source of international uncertainty, creating a void that China is eager to fill.

The following are a few examples of China flexing its muscles on the world stage:

After the United States pulled out of the Paris Agreement, China stepped in to take a lead. The day after the Trump administration announced its decision to withdraw from the agreement, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang reiterated China’s commitment to the Paris Agreement and its cooperation on climate change. The Paris Agreement has been authorized by the National People’s Congress and is legally binding in China.

In 2013, China launched “One Belt, One Road.” This initiative boasts spending $900bn in infrastructure projects in 65 countries south and west of China, along the historic Silk Road, ranging from highways in Pakistan to railway lines in Thailand. The overarching aim of the project is to construct a network of ports, railways and pipelines that will plug China into economic hubs across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. This integration will strengthen Chinese economic influence and maritime power in the region. “One Belt, One Road” could mark the beginning of a major shift in geopolitical alliances in the region.

The founding of Asian Universities Alliance on April 29, 2017 is one example of Chinese higher education expansion in the region. With an initial funding of $1.5 million from Tsinghua University and an initial membership of 15 universities from across the region, the founders aim to promote student and faculty mobility within Asia and foster collaborative research among member institutions.

Chinese Vice-Premier Liu Yandong delivered the keynote address at the opening ceremony and predicted that the Asian University Alliance will: “Resolve regional and global problems and bring together outstanding talents with an international perspective to serve regional development.”

China’s president Xi frequently refers to the “Chinese dream of the great revival of the Chinese nation.” This objective matches its goal of becoming a higher education superpower. And that could change the bottom line of many colleges and universities around the world.

International Student Recruitment and the New World Disorder

International Student Recruitment and the New World Disorder

In the Price Waterhouse Coopers’ report, The World in 2050: Will the shift in global power continue?, the authors estimate that in just a few decades the world will be very different than it is today in terms of the global ranking of national economies and the major drivers of economic growth. The report notes that China overtook the United States in 2014 to become the world’s largest economy on purchasing power parity and by 2028 the authors project that China will surpass the United States’ GDP in market exchange rate terms.

Countries with the fastest growing economies, populations and growing middle classes in Asia, like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam will dominate economic growth in the region. And the Asian middle class is expected to increase from 600 million in 2010 to more than 3 billion by 2030 to represent 66 percent of total global middle class population.

International student mobility, by extension, will be impacted by this new economic reality. I think it is safe to predict that regional mobility will grow in importance over global mobility and the major importers of students today, the United States and the United Kingdom, will continue to lose their share of internationally mobile students. While China will remain a leading exporter of students, it will increasingly become a major importer of students with a goal of enrolling 500,000 international students by 2020.

According to an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report, the stage is set for a new level of competition among international study destinations. National visa and immigration policies, coordinated regional and national marketing campaigns, availability of scholarships and employment after graduation, will be some of the factors countries can leverage to maintain or increase their market share of international students.

In his book, The World in Disarray, Richard Haass writes: What exists in many parts of the world resembles more a new world disorder.”

I would extent that sentiment to international higher education.

This article is excerpted from my new book, International Student Mobility and the New World Disorder, to be published in December, 2017.


Impact of Technology on International Recruitment


International Student Mobility and the Impact of Technology on International Recruitment

There will probably be no greater impact on higher education worldwide than the integration of technology into educational delivery methods. The internet has rendered geography irrelevant and digital options, especially in India and parts of Africa, are changing the way higher education is consumed in those countries. Many students may study abroad but they may do so never leaving their home countries.

The numbers are staggering and change daily but, according to the report, Digital Learning Compass: Distance Education Enrollment Report 2017, 30 percent of students worldwide are enrolled in at least 1 online course.

I realize the jury is still out on the potential and sustainability of online education. But the major MOOC providers, Udacity, Coursera and edX in the United States, FutureLearn in Britain and Iversity in Germany, among others believe that online and MOOC courses have the potential to educate millions of students, democratize higher education and build global communities.

Two technology giants, Google and Bertelsmann, also believe in the potential of MOOCs to transform how higher education is delivered and have launched a scholarship program to fund and enroll 75,000 students from the European Union, Egypt, Israel, Russia and Turkey in MOOC courses.

Google education writer, Brigitte Hoyer Gosselink, wrote the following: “Technology can bypass the geopolitical and financial boundaries that block educational resources from reaching students, while making those resources more engaging, interactive and effective.”

The jury is still out on the potential and sustainability of online learning and MOOC courses. But I believe the greatest promises of online learning and MOOCs, as well as the greatest threats, have yet to materialize.

Debate and disagreement will continue among members of the higher education community. But, in my opinion, the colleges and universities that will successfully maneuver around the headwinds of change will be the schools that realize that tomorrow’s technology is already today’s reality.

This article is excerpted from my new book, International Student Mobility and the New World Disorder, to be published in December, 2017.

The Impact of Nationalism on Future International Student Recruitment

The Impact of Nationalism on Future International Student Recruitment

All of the numbers are yet to be recorded but what we know today is that many of the predictions about international student enrollment for the fall, 2017 term, have become reality.  This is what we know so far:

In a report published by ICEF, a survey of US colleges and universities revealed that only about a third expected to meet their enrollment targets for September. And 40 per cent expected declines in international student numbers for the fall. 85 percent of senior admission staff reported being very concerned about reaching their institutional targets for the next academic year. Early reports reveal a decrease in the number of applications from Chinese and Indian students, two of the most important markets for US colleges and universities.

According to the Canadian Bureau for International Education, Canadian colleges and universities report an increased number of applicants and enrollments from students from China, India, South Korea, France, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Japan and Brazil.

While there are no final enrollment numbers for schools in Great Britain, Australia, Germany, China, Japan, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, early application numbers indicate an increase in the number of international student applications in all of the countries listed with the exception of Great Britain.

At least in the United States, in an attempt to increase international enrollments for 2018, international enrollment managers and recruiters will probably engage in attending more international fairs, hire more agents, create new social media outlets and host more webinars.

I will not argue with the validity or productivity of this type of international student outreach. However, I believe there are other factors in play that will impact future international student recruitment and enrollment. One such factor is the rise of nationalism around the world and specifically in the United States, Great Britain, China and certain European countries, like Hungary, Turkey and Poland.

I believe that before embarking on doing more of the same, international enrollment managers and deans should first consider the impact of nationalism on future international recruitment plans.

The impact of nationalism on international higher education has already been felt in the declining number of applications from international students to the United States and European Union students to Britain. It would be easy to blame the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote for the reasons for the declines. But both the election and the vote were outcomes, not causes, of the votes. People around the world fear they are losing out because of free market globalization. People around the world believe their borders are too porous, and people around the world fear losing their sense of national identity.

In his book, Ruling the Void: the Hollowing of Western Democracy, the author, Peter Mair, makes the case for current populist sentiments. Elected governments, he writes, have conceded powers to non-elected agencies, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization.

In many countries in the Middle East, political turmoil and changing alliances have created new higher educational partners. While the United Arab Emirates continue to enroll increased numbers of international students, the tension between Saudi Arabia and Qatar and the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, do not bode well for the future of international recruitment in those countries. And then there is the increasing influence of Iran in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan to consider.

China is flexing its nationalistic muscle not only politically and economically but also in higher education. President Xi, since coming to power, has intensified efforts to build what he refers to as “cultural confidence,” beginning with a nationwide education program to preserve traditional Chinese culture and minimize “Western values” influence on Chinese society.

In April of this year, the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, called for an amendment to the National Higher Education law which would make it impossible for the Central European University to operate. CEU, founded in 1991 is a private graduate school with 1,000 students from over 100 countries. The Prime Minister wants to change its U.S. accreditation so that it can become free of “nefarious liberal influences.”

There are too many other examples of global nationalist movements to list in this article but I believe that growing nationalist movements have the potential to threaten and disrupt the global and collaborative nature of higher education.

International enrollment managers should carefully calculate how nationalism may impact their future international recruitment plans. The best plans of 2017 may not be valid next year because of the political and economic changes fueled by nationalism.


Parts of this article are excerpted from my new book, International Student Mobility and the New World Disorder, to be published in December, 2017.