I suspect that many readers of this article will either dismiss the premise that colleges and universities in the United States will continue to lose international student market share or dispute the facts I list. Some may hope that the decline in international student enrollments in the United States for the fall 2017 semester, was just a blip; a one-off. Still others will blame the decline on the outcome of the 2016 election.
The fact is that for several years the United States was losing its share of the international student market. Last year the number of new foreign students declined an average of 7 percent. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center the number of domestic undergraduate students decreased 224,000, or 1 percent. Was this one of the reasons why Moody’s changed its credit outlook for U.S. higher education to “negative” from “stable?”
The stakes are high. International student enrollment in the United States supplies $39 billion in revenue and supports 400 jobs.
Let’s examine some facts
In 2001, 28 percent of all international students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities. By 2014, the figure was 22 percent.
In 2015-16, international student enrollment in the U.S. increased by 7 percent from the prior year. But that was down from a 10 percent increase.
In 2014-15, 304,040 Chinese students studied in the United States, a 10.8 percent increase from the previous year. However, in 2013-14, the increase was 21.4 percent.
Why I believe the U.S. will continue to lose international market share:
Countries with the fastest growing economies, populations and a growing middle class in Asia, like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam will dominate economic growth in the region. The governments in these countries have made education a priority and have invested heavily in the sector. The result has been to create a political and economic “infrastructure” in those counties that supports higher education enrollments and regional education hub growth.
Part of China’s higher education initiatives is to become a major importer of international students. One example of China’s higher education expansion was the founding of the Asian Universities Alliance on April 29, 2017. Joining Tsinghua University, were several academic powerhouses in the region, including Peking University, the University of Tokyo, Seoul National University, the National University of Singapore and the University of Malaysia.
Chinese colleges and universities now enroll more students from Africa than the United States and Britain combined.
A great deal can and will be written about the implications of the election of Donald Trump on higher education both in the U.S. and worldwide. The current perception of the U.S. around the world is a country unwelcoming to foreign students. Perception becomes reality and it will take several years to unpack the implications of the election and travel bans.
International 2017-18 “winners”
According to the Canadian Bureau for International Education, enrollments of foreign students soared in the fall term for students from China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Japan and Brazil. There are 270,000 new students studying in Canada, a 22 percent increase over the previous year. There are 350,000 international students, in total, studying on Canadian campuses.
International student enrollment increased 6 percent in Germany in the fall semester. International students now make up more than 12 percent of the country’s student population.
For the fall 2017 semester, more than 700,000 students from more than 190 countries enrolled on Australian campuses, an increase of more than 14 percent over the previous year.
National policies and enrollment targets
In June, 2017, the British Council reported the following international enrollment targets for the following countries:
China – 500,000 by 2020; Australia – 720,000 by 2025, Canada- 450,000 by 2022; New Zealand 143,000 by 2025
Taiwan- 58,000 by 2019; South Korea, -200,000 by 2023; Malaysia 250,000 by 2025; Japan- 300,000 by 2020;
There will probably be no greater impact on worldwide higher education than the integration of technology into educational delivery methods. The internet has rendered geography irrelevant and digital options, especially in India and certain countries in Africa, are changing the way higher education is consumed.
The high cost of studying in the U.S. and the reluctance of many U.S. colleges and universities to embrace online learning and MOOCs will continue to erode America’s market share of the globally mobile student.
The biggest threat, in my opinion, to future international student enrollments in the U.S. is a reluctance on the part of many college and university presidents, deans and enrollment managers to realize and take seriously that international student mobility is dominated by the options and choices students have.
We can either succumb to change or manage it. The choice is ours.
Christmas background snowflakes with lights vector illustration
As has been my custom over the past five years, this end-of-the-year blog will contain no statistics or data supporting or disproving assumptions about the changing face of international student recruitment and enrollment. I will not share with you my thoughts on the impact of the Brexit referendum in Britain or the impact of the Trump election on future international student enrollments.
In the next year, my book, International Student Mobility and the New World Disorder, will be published and in that publication I will share with you why I believe major shifts are already in place for where international students will enroll in the future and how international deans and recruiters will recruit international students in the future.
For now, all I wish to do in this posting is to wish you and your family and your colleagues health and happiness in 2018.
International Student Mobility and the Pivot to Asia
The demand for higher education in South and East Asia has exploded. According to a World Education Services report, in 2015 Asian countries sent an estimated 2.3 million students abroad for study. With a population of more than 620 million under the age of 18, $226 trillion combined economy and the fastest growing middle class in the world, South Asia is poised to become a major economic player in the future. The 10 ASEAN countries are projected to become the 5th largest economic bloc by 2020.
More than 300 million students are enrolled in higher education in South Asia and the unmet need is estimated to be 3 to 4 times that number. The governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Korea, Singapore, Vietnam and Cambodia have made higher education a priority and have invested heavily in higher education initiatives.
In March, 2016, the ASEAN-Socio-Cultural Community Blueprint for Higher Education 2015-2025 was launched. The goals are to promote innovation in higher education and encourage the free flow of ideas, knowledge, expertize and skills within the region. The architects of the blueprint hope that it will strengthen regional and global cooperation by enhancing the quality of competitiveness of higher education institutions across ASEAN.
The year 2017 marked the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. One of the major accomplishments of ASEAN has been the harmonization of member states’ education systems and increased collaboration among universities in the region.
In April, 2017 the Asian Universities Alliance was created to facilitate the creation of a platform facilitating exchange programs as well as joint research projects.
Collaborations between institutions in the region include: Malaysia’s Al Bikhary International University and Turkey’s Ibn Haldun University, National Taiwan University and Vietnam National University and Southern Taiwan Universities Alliance and several universities in the Philippines.
No doubt these are ambitious regional goals. I am not suggesting that past and current strongholds of international student enrollments will immediately decrease or disappear. But I am suggesting that several political, economic and sociological trends suggest that over time, there will be an increased shift in regional enrollments from the west to the east.
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.
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.