International student enrollment post 9/11: This time for America?

International student mobility in the decade following the tragedy of 9/11 is characterized by a rapid growth supported by growing demand from China and India. Australia and the UK had been successful in absorbing most of the growth in the demand driven by aggressive recruitment practices and easier immigration policies as compared to strict visa policies of the US post 9/11.

Size of international student market for Australia grew by 131% between 2002 and 2009, adding more than 350,000 students. Likewise, the UK grew by 67% in the period between 2001 and 2009, adding more than 160,000 students. In contrast, US added about 100,000 students and grew by 19% between 2001 to 2009. This is quite a slow growth for the US given the size of the higher education system.

Another major characteristic of the growth has been over-dependence on top two source countries–China and India.  For example, proportion of Chinese and Indian students has doubled in Australia and the UK from 22% in 2002 to 44%. Likewise, every fourth international student in the UK and every third international student in the US is from China or India. This over-reliance on two markets highlights that countries and institutions have to make sure that they do not lose these markets at the same time develop other markets as a de-risking strategy.

Nearly 385,000 more Chinese and Indian were studying in Australia, the UK and US in 2009 as compared to 2001. This also proves that demand from these markets is increasing despite expansion of the local capacity, albeit at the expense of quality. This is driven several demand and supply drivers as discussed here.

However, the recent recession has significantly altered the mobility patterns in last couple of years. At one level this has compelled US public institutions to more aggressively look for internatinoal students as an additional source of revenue and at the same time Australia and the UK had to tighten their immigration policies for students. This is a beginning of a new decade of growth international student enrollment in the US higher education.

Some of the early reports of fall’2011 enrollment are showing significant increase in international student enrollment. For example, at the University of Iowa first-time freshmen international students enrollment reached record level of 484 this as compared to 388 last year. Likewise, for Arkansas State University international student enrollment for fall’11 crossed 1,000 students for the first time as compared to 780 students last year. Even last year, public universities had shown healthy growth in international enrollment.

A decade after 9/11, US higher education is set to strengthen its leadership in attracting international student. Driven by aggressive efforts by universities and unattractiveness of alternative destinations, US international student enrollment in the US will grow at a healthy rate.

Thoughts/comments?

Related reading:
America calling
US is still the most attractive destination
International recruitment agents: Playing with fire?

Dr. Rahul Choudaha

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