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In 20 years, international tertiary student numbers have increased 200% - OECD

Education at a Glance, the OECD's annual report, reveals key trends in international education. Here's a brief overview.
BY Skendha Singh |   25-09-2018

international tertiary students

In the last two decades, international tertiary student numbers have increased from 2 million to 5 million, according to OECD’s latest Education at a Glance report. The international student numbers have more than doubled, but their focus on STEM and doctoral programs has remained consistent.

The report highlighted some key global trends in international tertiary education. One, that advanced degrees are a more popular option for international students – 26% are enrolled in doctoral programs and 17% at the master’s level. Bachelor’s programs still see lower enrolments – the 2016 figure was below 5%.

Two, students from Asia are the largest group of internationally mobile students who are enrolled in tertiary programs at all levels. Of this population, 38% were in the US, 15% in Australia and 11% in the UK.

The most noticeable increase in the number of students leaving their countries to study abroad was seen in Hungary, India, Italy, Spain and Saudi Arabia.

Three, English-speaking countries remain the most attractive destinations. US, UK, Australia and Canada host over half of the tertiary student populations. That said, France and Germany are increasingly popular as host countries. The rising popularity can be attributed to domestic and external factors and student-friendly initiatives such as the tertiary-education programs taught in English. As a result, Germany achieved its target of hosting 350,000 international students in 2016, 3 years before its deadline of 2020. France, meanwhile, is also quickly scaling the popularity charts. According to a survey by Kantar Public and Campus France, it was voted the second most popular study destination after Canada.

Four, a third of the internationals students were enrolled in STEM fields in 2016. The report said that the global importance of science, engineering and business management subjects, and the career opportunities for their graduates was a major reason. Another might be the “lower language proficiency required to perform in STEM” leading to easier internationalization of these fields of study as opposed to literature and allied subjects. 

Analysing the causes for international mobility, the report attributed it to three major factors:

  • Lack of capacity in home countries
  • Availability of niche specialisations in host countries
  • Post-migration opportunities in host countries

Discussing the need to invest in later stages of education, the report underlined why international students are good news and should be welcomed globally - “[G]raduates at that level make a large contribution to R&D and innovation, and to addressing socio-economic challenges”. It continued, “Attracting mobile students, especially if they stay permanently, is a way to tap into a global pool of talent, compensate for weaker capacity at lower educational levels, support the development of innovation and production systems and, in many countries, to mitigate the impact of an ageing population.”



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