Differences in mobility of women international students: Case of China and India

While women student enrollment is more than men in many countries, proportion of women in international student enrollment still lags behind. According to IIE Open Doors, in 2011/12, women comprised of 44% of international student enrollment. At the same time, there are acute differences by source countries and level of education.

Given the limitation of publicly available data, I took a case of the University of Illinois, which hosted nearly 9,000 international students in 2011/12 and ranks second among top institutions in terms of international student enrollment.

As the chart shows, number of Indian women at undergraduate level is one-twelfth of Chinese (778 vs. 64) While number of Chinese women grew nearly twenty-times in five years (from 38 in fall 2005 to 778 in fall 2010), number of Indian women grew at an anemic pace from 43 to 64 students.

The situation is a bit more positive at the graduate level where number of Chinese women is five-times of number of Indian women. Proportion of international women students for India was 23% was compared to 48% for China. (An earlier analysis, provides comprehensive break-down of data on test-taking patterns of women GMAT test-takers from China and India).


There are several reasons contributing to this low mobility of Indian women in general and at specifically at undergraduate level in specific. This includes a conservative sociocultural environment which sees study abroad experience for young female students as a deterrent to future marriage prospects. In addition, financial barriers makes it difficult to fund undergraduate education.

Are universities doing enough to facilitate mobility of women students? Higher education institutions can not remain passive and need to do more to facilitate and support mobility of women students. This could be a very important contributor to advancement of women in different societies at all levels. Innovative scholarships and campaigns that help engage women should be built in institutional outreach strategies.

Dr. Rahul Choudaha