Intensifying Competition and Shifting Expectations in the Next Wave of Global Student Mobility

How is the future of student mobility likely to shift? To understand the future trends, let us look back at the recent history of mobility. In my article, Three Waves of International Student Mobility, I analyze the trends from the lens of three overlapping waves shaped by key events impacting future trends. While many variables influence mobility, this framework provides a bigger picture of how mobility has changed over time from the perspective of competing destinations.

framework of global foreign student choices and motivations


Wave I: Impact of Terrorist Attacks 
Wave I of international students has its origin in the increasing demand for high-skilled talent, especially in STEM subjects at master’s and doctoral level. During this wave, many institutions were motivated to attract international students for research and reputation – and were willing and able to provide funding and scholarships to lure global talent.

Wave II: Impact of Global Financial Recession 
Wave II has its origins in the global financial recession that started in the US. The cascading effect of the crisis resulted in severe budget cuts in the higher education sector in many countries around the world. This compelled institutions to start looking for alternative sources of revenue. One of the sources was to recruit full fee-paying international students. According to OECD, there was a “greater interest in recruiting foreign students as tertiary institutions increasingly rely on revenues from foreign tuition fees which are often higher than for national students”.

Wave III: Impact of New Political Order 
Wave III is shaped by the uncertainties triggered by a new political order with nationalistic overtones. The outcome of UK’s referendum on membership of the European Union and the result of the US presidential election surprised many – both positively and negatively. However, nationalism was on the rise even before that. The institutional driver in the third wave will be to innovate and offer new modes of programs through partnerships, transnational, online and continuing education to attract and retain international students. At the same time, institutions must prepare to support increasing expectations of career and employability outcomes among international students.


This is an edited excerpt of my article published in Times Higher Education
Here is the accepted manuscript.