How many Indian and Chinese students go abroad every year?

How many Indian and Chinese students go overseas to study every year? How many Indian and Chinese undergraduate students apply to US universities every year? What is the market size of Indian and Chinese student recruitment sector?

There are different estimates floating in the market as there is no authoritative data available to answer these questions. Most of the data available reports total enrollment (stock) and not annual new enrollment (flow). Global Education Digest reports total enrollment foreign students and not their annual outflow. Likewise, IIE Open Doors reports total enrollment in the US. So, we have to derive this number indirectly.

I have used NSF report (2010) for deriving my estimates, as it offers new enrollment in the U.S. by country and level.

Based on the calculations show in the table, it is estimated that

  • ~31,400 Chinese and ~39,000 Indian students come to study in the U.S. every year
  • Number of new Chinese undergraduate students is three-times that of Indian students (~9,600 vs. ~3,200)
  • Number of new Indian master’s students is more than all of new Chinese students (~32,400 vs. ~31,400)

It is interesting to note that contrary to popular perception, more Indian students may be coming to the US as compared to Chinese. This is due to enrollment pattern of Chinese students which are concentrated in longer duration Undergraduate and Doctorate programs as compared to shorter duration master’s programs where nearly 70% of Indian students are enrolled.

This calculation can be extended to estimate the global mobility of Indian and Chinese students on an annual basis. From, Global Education Digest, we know that the U.S. forms ~20% and ~50% of total global enrollment of Chinese (510, 000) and Indian students (195,000). Thus, we can extrapolate the calculations from the table to derive that nearly 156, 700 Chinese and 80,500 Indians go abroad every year. This estimate is limited by the fact that enrollment of Chinese and Indian students in US may not be representative of other destinations. For example, Australia enrolls disproportionately higher number of Indian students at vocational level as compared to the U.S.

Based on the number of students going abroad every year, one can also estimate the market size of aspiring applicants and hence recruitment market. Assuming that every students who enrolls abroad there are five times as many students applying. This gives us an estimate of nearly 750,000 Chinese and 400,000 Indian students applying to study abroad every year. No wonder, international student recruitment is a massive and growing business.

Of course, these are derived estimates, based on assumptions. I would welcome thoughts and suggestions to for improving the estimates.

Dr. Rahul Choudaha


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