The New Silk Road and Future International Student Mobility
The original Silk Road, established during the Han dynasty, beginning around 130 B.C., created a string of markets and trading posts from Antioch, across the Syrian desert, through Iraq and Iran to the former capital of China, Xian.
In 2013, China’s President Xi Jinping announced the “One Belt, One Road,” initiative. The infrastructure project is estimated to cost more than a trillion dollars and involves 68 countries south and west of China, along the historic Silk Road. China’s overarching aim 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. When complete, the Belt and Road will connect approximately 65 percent of the world’s population. According to David Dollar, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, China loans about $40 million a year to developing countries.
This integration will inevitably strengthen Chinese economic, political and maritime power in the region, and by extension, educational collaborations with regional colleges and universities.
What does all this have to do with future international recruitment? China’s higher education initiatives include increasing the number of international students studying on Chinese campuses to 500,000 by 2020.
One example of Chinese higher education expansion was the founding of the Asian Universities Alliance in 2017 with an initial membership of 15 universities. In addition to promoting student and faculty mobility within Asia, the organization also aims to promote collaborative research among member institutions.
Another example of growing Chinese influence in higher education is providing scholarships to students from all over the world. This is most evident in Africa. In 2003, there were 2,000 African students studying in China. By 2015, the number had increased to 50,000.
China’s political, economic and strategic educational initiatives and its robust funding policies will pull future international students away from Western colleges and universities. Brand name schools, of course, will not be negatively impacted. But schools with low international profiles and endowments and dependent on international student revenue to meet enrollment and financial goals, will no longer be able to count on future Chinese enrollment This may not happen tomorrow. But, I predict, it will happen.
Are fewer international students enrolling in the U.S. the new normal?
I believe there is enough information, statistics and data to support my iconoclastic opinion that the recent decline in international student enrollment on U.S. colleges and universities in 2017 was not a one-off.
While it is true that colleges and universities in the United States enroll more international students than any other country, it is my hope that anyone reading this blog will realize that for years the U.S. has been losing market share of international students and there is no reason to believe that this will change anytime soon. No one should be shocked or confused by this trend. The U.S. decline of internationally mobile students can be traced back to 2000.
In 2001 there were 2.1 million students enrolled in higher education institutions worldwide. The U.S. enrolled 28 percent of these students. In 2017 4.6 million students studied outside their home countries and the U.S. enrolled 24 percent.
China, which was not even on the top ten list in 2001 now ranks third with 10 percent of international students enrolling in Chinese colleges and universities. In 2016, 70,540 Korean students enrolled on Chinese campuses. The number of Thai students studying in China was 23,044, India 18,11, Indonesia 14,714. The number of American students studying in China in 2016 was 23,838.
Canada, also not on the top ten list in 2001 enrolled 7 percent of all international students. And Russia, not listed in 2001, enrolled 6 percent of all international students in 2017. These statistics reflect a coordinated national policy of these countries to attract and enroll students from all over the world. Students today have options and they are exercising them.
Other countries reporting increasing numbers of international students are: Malaysia, Japan, Australia and Germany.
I believe it is safe to conclude that the competitiveness of the current international student market is not a new phenomenon or simply the result of the 2016 election. I think it is accurate to conclude that several other countries have been doing a very good job of attracting and enrolling international students and making them feel both welcomed and safe.
I think it is accurate to predict that U.S. colleges and universities can no longer take it for granted that they will continue to enroll more international students than any other country. America’s position in the international student marketplace has been attenuated. The biggest challenge of international deans and recruiters is to accept this fact and move forward. More on how to do that in future blogs.
Three additional reasons why the United States will continue to lose market share of future international students
In my last blog I listed six reasons why I believe the U.S. will continue to lose market share of future international students. Since that last posting I have three additional reasons I would like to share with you.
Uncertainty over travel bans
Even if the international student market was not as competitive as it is today, the uncertainty of current and future travel bans will negatively impact the enrollment of future international students to the U.S. Students have too many worldwide enrollment options and don’t have to deal with the unpredictability of U.S. government sanctions. The best international enrollment manager following the best international recruitment plan is no match for uncertainty and confusion. While the most prestigious U.S. colleges and universities may not feel the impact of recent government sanctions, less prestigious schools certainly will.
Changes to H-1B visa rules
Currently, H-1B visas are available to a maximum of 65,000 foreign workers for a period of 3 years. “Extreme vetting” requirements, introduced last year, have resulted in an increase of H-1B visa denials. And next month the Department of Homeland Security intends to eliminate the rule allowing spouses of H-1B visa employees to work in the U.S.
Let’s contrast this with China’s recently implemented visa policy. Beginning this year China is issuing long-term visas to attract skilled people to work in China. The multi-entry visas will be valid for a period of 5 to 10 years. Applications may be filed online and are free of charge. Spouses and children will be allowed to accompany the visa holder.
What impact do you think the two contrasting policies will have in the future?
Little or no “soft power” U.S. policies
As the U.S. retreats from the world stage as evidenced by withdrawing from a global climate agreement, renegotiating bilateral trade agreements and eschewing isolationist policies, China has stepped in to fill the power void. It’s “One Belt, One Road” project will propel China’s influence into all corners of the globe. Higher education will not be immune to China’s desire to dominate politically and economically.
The current decline in international student enrollment on U.S. colleges and universities is not, in my opinion, a one-off. First, international enrollment managers must acknowledge and validate this fact and second, design new strategies to meet the headwinds of change.
What do I know? — Montaigne
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.