In 2020 which country will enroll more international students?

In 2020 which country will enroll more international students?


“They gave their exits and their entrances”  

William Shakespeare


Could it be that this quote from the great bard will apply to the exit of the U.S. and the U.K. as the leading importers of international students and the entrance of China as their replacement?

Heresy? Iconoclastic? Maybe not.

Let’s examine some facts.

In 2017 China ranked third, after the U.S. and the U.K., in the number of international students studying in China. According to a report published by the Center for China and Globalization, a major Chinese think tank, China enrolled approximately 443,000 international students in 2016 and has set a goal of enrolling 500,000 by 2020. China could easily reach that goal this year, two years ahead of schedule.

China’s US $5 trillion investment in the One Belt One Road program is laying the groundwork for China to create a future network of students to enroll in Chinese universities, to set up exchange programs and research collaborations and establish branch campuses in Belt and Road countries.

China’s Belt and Road initiative provides scholarships for students from the 65 countries along the famous Silk Road. Of the top 15 countries enrolling in China, 10 were students from Belt and Road countries and a total of 10,000 scholarships are available to students from Belt and Road countries.

Last year, the State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs, issued a circular on establishing a nationwide system to grant easier approval for foreigners to work in China and students to remain in China to work after graduation.

China’s Asian Universities Alliance will strengthen collaborations in both Southeast Asia and Africa. An estimated 80,000 students studying in China are from Southeast Asian countries. The majority of these students have received scholarships to study in China. Many Southeast Asian students regard a degree earned in China as leading to better job prospects after graduation.

Contrast these initiatives with recent higher education regulations from both the U.S. and the U.K. that reflect a narrow provincialism focusing on tighter borders, less funding and a generally unwelcoming atmosphere.

Has China’s time come to dominate the world stage, including higher education? Is the U.S. and the U.K.’s dominance both in world affairs and higher education over? “They have their exits and their entrances.”


Where are International Students Enrolling?

Snapshot: Where are international students enrolling?

I don’t think it necessary to wait until fall 2018 enrollment numbers are known to predict which countries will continue to increase their market share of international students.

Let’s begin with Australia

According to data published in October 2017, international student enrollment increased by 13 percent over the previous year and contributed AUS$29 billion to the Australian economy.

In January of this year Indonesia announced that it will open its doors to foreign universities looking to operate in the country. One of the countries that should benefit from this ruling is Australia. Two top Australian universities, the University of Melbourne and the University of Queensland, have already expressed interest in operating in Indonesia.

Australia has emerged as the preferred destination for Indian students, a direct response, it is reported, to the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the UK and the US. The number of Indian students studying in Australia has soared to a seven-year high. As of November 2017, more than 68,000 Indian students were studying in Australia colleges and universities, an increase of 14.65 percent over the previous year.


The enrollment of Indian students in Canadian universities has been steadily increasing since 2015. By 2016, enrollment topped 100,000, an increase of 63 percent.  

Enrollments from China have also increased over the past three years. The Canadian government has opened seven new visa centers in China to accommodate the increasing demand from Chinese students.

South Korea

For the past three years international student enrollments in South Korea have increased. In 2017 enrollment increased 19 percent over the previous year. South Korea now hosts nearly 125,000 international students. China remains the most important market for South Korean colleges and universities. 55 percent of all international students studying in South Korea are Chinese.


In 2016, the Taiwanese government developed a “New Southbound Policy,” aimed at closer collaboration with ASEAN countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

By 2017 the number of Taiwanese students studying in ASEAN countries increased 13.5 percent. The number of students from southbound countries enrolling in Taiwanese colleges and universities increased by nearly 10 percent.


Germany’s international student enrollment increased for the 2016-17 academic year and totaled 360,000. In the prior year, the number was 340,000. Germany has set a target of enrolling 350,000 students by 2020, a target that appears to be easily reached.

I do not wish to perform cosmetic surgery on the truth. But the facts speak for themselves: the pivot to Asia has occurred and colleges and universities in “traditional” Western countries will no longer enroll international students in the numbers they have over the past quarter century.

New Book

International Student Mobility and the New World Disorder

Book Cover Marguerite J. Dennis International Student MobilityLet me be clear. This blog is a promotion for my book. I am passionate about the subject matter and am convinced that the ways in which international students were recruited in the past will longer be the methods used to recruit them in the future.

Based on ten years of research and written with insight and creativity, International Student Mobility and the New World Disorder and Practical Recommendations for International Enrollment Managers, Deans and Recruiters expands the marketplace of ideas and offers readers multiple approaches to planning and implementing strategic international programs and recruiting future international students.

In Part 1 of this book the author makes the case for how recent political, economic, societal and technological trends throughout the world have, and will continue, to impact future international student mobility. The negative impact of the Brexit vote and the 2016 presidential election in the United States on future international student mobility are outlined in detail.

Current international student mobility trends, the Asian pivot, and the rise of different worldwide educational hubs will allow the reader to peer into the future of likely student migrations.

In Part 2 the author lists practical recommendations for dealing with the new realities of future international student mobility, poses 40 questions to ask before writing a strategic international student recruitment plan and lists the elements of successful and unsuccessful international student recruitment plans. Part 2 concludes with listing over 100 practical suggestions for how to increase international student enrollment.  

Part 3 presents examples of how to audit and assess international programs and lists an appendix of reports for international managers and deans.

The dark alchemy of disruption and unpredictability demand a new way of thinking and planning. Whether a college or university enjoys a robust international student recruitment program or is just beginning to develop one, International Student Mobility and the New World Disorder will provide insights and recommendations for how to effectively deal with the new world disorder.


Marguerite J.  Dennis is an internationally recognized expert on creating strategic international plans and international student recruitment programs. She is the author of six books on higher education, two books on trends in international higher education and more than 200 articles on higher education in the United States and international higher education. She has served as a consultant to colleges and universities in Asia and the Middle East and is a member of the Board of Trustees of Regent’s University London and is member of the Advisory Board for the Observatory on Borderless Education.

The New Silk Road


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.


One Way to Increase Enrollment

In their book, That Used to Be Us, authors Thomas Friedman and Michael
Mandelbaum posit that the future of the United States rests firmly on the
shoulders of our education system. However, the authors report that only
25 percent of high school graduates who enroll in an undergraduate degree
program are prepared for college work and approximately 40 percent are
required to take remedial courses. Only 60 percent will graduate in six
years. And companies spend more than $3 billion annually on remedial
training. The book cites many additional negative statistics, all indications
that unless things change the United States will continue to fall further and
further behind other countries.
Higher education in the United States is a big industry, more than $500
billion in annual expenditures and many aspects of this industry are in
trouble. Currently about 18 million students are enrolled in higher education
courses, 2.4 million fewer students than were enrolled five years ago.
Enrollment is not expected to increase until 2023. In January, 2018
Moody’s Investor Service downgraded higher education from “stable” to
Many colleges and universities, especially those with little brand name
recognition and low endowments continue chasing after a shrinking pool of
qualified students. One-third of small private schools rated by Moody’s
Investor Service generated operating deficits in 2016, an increase from 20
percent three years ago.
According to Friedman, “big breakthroughs happen when what is suddenly
possible meets what is desperately necessary.” Could that apply to online
learning and Massive Open Online courses as potential new sources of
recruitment and enrollment?
Generation Z is the first “phigital” generation, defined as students who do
not make a distinction between the physical world and the digital world.
How can enrollment managers, deans of admission and international
enrollment managers reach this generation of students?
Enter online and Massive Open Online courses. According to a report,
eMarketer 2016, young adults are online an average of 53 hours a week.
380 million mobile devises were purchased in the first quarter of 2017, a
9.1 percent increase over the first quarter of 2016. In the 2015-16
academic year more than 6 million American students were enrolled in a
least one online and distance education course.
Similar statistics apply to international higher education.
China ranks first in the number of Massive Open Online courses with 3,200
launched by 460 higher education institutions. 55 million Chinese have
enrolled in Massive Open Online courses including more than 6 million
university students. In 2016 the number of online Chinese online learners
increased by 23.8 percent and it is anticipated that when the statistics are
published there would be a 20.5 percent increase in 2017. That increase
would bring then number of total online learners to 100 million.
Recently the government of India approved a plan permitting 15 percent of
Indian universities to offer online degrees allowing the universities to tap
into a new market of students and adult learners who are unable to attend
on-campus classes.
In February, 2017, an agreement was signed between the 380-member
Association of African Universities and Africa’s largest online education
platform, eLearn Africa. This arrangement will allow approximately 10
million African students to access higher education through online courses
offered to member institutions.
According to a report, Digital Learning Compass: Distance Education
Report 2017, 30 percent of students worldwide are enrolled in at least one
online course.
Several years ago I wrote A Practical Guide to Enrollment and Retention
Management in Higher Education. I began the first chapter of the book with
a quote of Francis Wayland, president of Brown University, who wrote in
“Our colleges are not filled because we do not furnish the education
desired by the people. We have produced an article for which demand is
diminishing. We sell it at less than cost, and the deficiency is made up by
charity. We give it away, and the demand still diminishes.” This was written
in 1850. Could it also apply to higher education in 2018?
The jury is still out on the efficacy and impact of online learning, hybrid
learning, and massive open online courses. Many higher education
administrators and faculty argue that online learning is disruptive. Others
claim that precisely because it is disruptive online learning offers the best
hope for the future higher education enrollment. Online learning will never
replace traditional colleges and universities. But they do offer the potential
to enroll new cohorts of students for whom the traditional on-campus model
is irrelevant. And they do offer enrollment managers and admission deans
an expanded universe of students from which to recruit and enroll.



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