Will the United States continue to enroll more international students by 2020?


Will the United States continue to enroll more international students by 2020?



According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, international students contributed nearly $40 billion to the U.S. economy in 2016 and supported more than 450,000 jobs. Dr. Dick Startz, an economics professor at the University of Santa Barbara, puts the figure even higher at $50 billion.

According to the Institute for International Education the United States has led the world in the number of enrolled international students since records have been compiled.

However, there is ample evidence to suggest that this may be changing.  The number of international students enrolled on U.S. colleges and universities declined by four percent between 2016 and 2017.  On the graduate level, the number of international students enrolled in science and engineering decreased by 14,730, or six percent between 2016 and 2017.

The latest statistics from the State Department indicate a 17 percent decline in 2017 in the number of F-1 visas issued to international students, a 28 percent decline in the number of visas granted to Indian students and a 24 percent decline in visas issued to Chinese students. A combined 78,000 ewer international students were granted visas in 2017 compared with 2016.

The reasons for the decline are many: increased competition from other countries, especially Canada, Australia, China and Southeast Asian countries. The U.S. Muslim travel ban, greater scrutiny by consular officials of student visa applicants, uncertainty about the regulations for international students to work after graduation under the Optional Practical Training program, difficulty to obtain H-1B visas and the uncertainty over potentially new regulations that may limit the number of visas granted to Chinese students. (In 2016-17 Chinese students accounted for a third of all international students studying in the United States and contributed $ 12 billion to the U.S. economy.)

Many colleges and universities in the United States rely heavily on the income from international students to subsidize national students to meet enrollment and financial goals. The schools with brand name recognition will likely continue to enroll the number of foreign students they want or need. But second and third-tier institutions, both public and private, are most likely to experience declines in the number of international students enrolling on their campuses.

I, for one, believe that in time the United States will lose, or share, the number one spot with other countries who are aggressively and successfully enrolling a greater share of internationally mobile students. China, with nearly a half million students enrolled on Chinese campuses today and with the One Belt One Road educational initiatives in countries worldwide, may, in time, take over the number one spot in international student enrollments.  


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.