What did we learn about international higher education in 2019 and what can we expect in 2020?
This is the first in a series of articles I will share over the next several weeks that examine the current state of international higher education in the United States and worldwide.
What did we learn about international higher education in 2019
The United States continued to lose market share of the internationally mobile student.
Although the United States still has more international students enrolled on its campuses than any other country, in fact, the U.S. has been losing market share of this cohort for several years. The number of new foreign students has declined 10 percent since 2015. And foreign student enrollment in the U.S. decreased 6.6 percent in the 2017-18 academic year.
There are several reasons for this decline as all of you reading this article know. It would be simplistic to lay all of the blame at the foot of the Trump administration’s travel bans, changes in the Optional Practical Training requirements, tariffs and trade war with China. To do this is to ignore global international higher education changes that have been occurring for several years, including:
Countries with the fastest growing populations and growing middle classes in Asia, like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam have made education a priority and have invested heavily in the sector. The result has been the creation of political and economic infrastructures in these countries that support higher education enrollments and regional education hub growth.
Other countries such as Canada, Australia, Japan, Germany, South Korea, among others, have made international higher education recruitment a priority and have successfully recruited and enrolled international students in 2019.
Another reason for international student decline in 2019 in the U.S. is financial. Austria, France, Germany and Norway all offer almost- free education to international students, in sharp contrast to the high tuition and fee costs of most American colleges and universities.
China’s Belt and Road worldwide economic and infrastructure projects include offering generous admission and scholarship opportunities to international students. The majority of international students enrolled on Chinese campuses are from Belt and Road countries. It is impossible how to know how many of these students, especially students from Africa, would have enrolled in the U.S. What we do know is that some portion of this cohort elected to study in China, not the U.S.
What can we expect in 2020:
Competition from other countries will continue to increase in 2020. Australia Canada, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia, Japan, Singapore, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and the United Arab Emirates have set ambitious international student recruitment goals for 2020. Many of these countries offer easy and flexible visa application processes and generous employment options after graduation. Many offer scholarships to international students.
U.S. international deans and recruiters will look beyond their traditional international student markets and consider recruiting students from other countries. They will recruit future international students based on economic and political considerations and match recruiting outreach to future employment opportunities. They will bring together the directors of admission, career counseling, research, alumni affairs, and the registrar to help direct future recruitment activities to include the countries of current international students and international alumni. They will collaborate with the director of admission to outreach to potential international students enrolled in local high schools and two- year colleges. (There are nearly 250,000 international students studying in the U.S. who are enrolled in American high schools and two-year community colleges.)
Technology will play an increasingly important role in future U.S. recruitment efforts. For ten years I supervised, from Boston, the admission of Senegalese students to a two-year, combined degree program in Dakar. Students studied two years in Dakar and the final two years in Boston. Throughout their enrollment these Senegalese students had the option to also study online.
In the report, The Shape of International Education to 2025, the authors illustrate how digital technologies are transforming international student mobility.
International deans will collaborate with academic deans to offer international students online programs, reducing the time and money it will take to enroll in American programs.
We should expect international deans to give the directors of career counseling a seat at the table when writing 2020 international strategic plans. Students, whether they are international or domestic, want to have some assurance that there will be a return on their financial investment after graduation. It will become increasingly important to match academic programs with future employment potential for international students once they return to their home countries.
How will American international deans and recruiters increase the number of international students in 2020? Examining potentially new and different international student markets based on research and current student enrollment, offering online courses, offering courses or programs in-country, and expanding collaboration among campus administrators are among suggestions that offer some potential for growth.