Megatrends to Impact International Student Mobility Choices, Preferences and Directions

Next 15 years are expected to be dramatically different from the previous 15 years due to megatrends–“a long-term, transformational process with global reach, broad scope, and a dramatic impact” (John Naisbitt, 1982). Are universities and colleges ready? Here is an excerpt from a recent article–Megatrends Prompt Universities to Innovate and Internationalize.

Recent Studyportals report, “Envisioning pathways to 2030: Megatrends shaping the future of global higher education and international student mobility” identified following eight megatrends transforming global higher education:

  • Aging world: finding new opportunities of education and employment;
  • Labor market shifts: increasing automation to affect global workforce;
  • Skills mismatch: gap between what employers’ demand vs what education provides;
  • Rapid urbanization: shift towards cities in search of jobs and career advancement;
  • Stricter immigration policies: more barriers for mobility to high-income destinations;
  • Economic shifts: dependence on emerging markets for economic growth;
  • Capacity imbalance: demand in emerging economies vs supply in developed economies;
  • Budget pressures: higher education is facing decline in public funding.

Taking a deeper dive into the megatrend of capacity imbalance, we notice that there are new global opportunities for higher education institutions to engage with the wider world. Consider the case of international students where career advancement through better quality education than their home country is one of the key motivators for a majority of students. This translates into a high preference for universities in developed countries. This is evident in the direction of internationally mobile students towards higher income economies.

Between 2007 and 2015, the number of internationally mobile students headed to developed countries increased by 1.06 million or 44 percent. In contrast, developing countries added just over 440,000 international students or 67 percent on a much smaller base. Of total 4.6 million internationally mobile students in 2015, developed countries attracted three-quarters of all students.

Globally, demand for higher education remains robust. However, there are wide variations by the income of countries. Megatrends will transform the world around us with the higher education sector in developed countries facing significant cost and competitive pressures. While demand for foreign education will remain robust with traditional cross-border mobility as the dominant form, much of the growth will be driven by innovation in program offerings and delivery methods. The fast rate of change, coupled with a high degree of uncertainty, makes it crucial for institutions to be proactive and innovative in terms of offering more relevant, affordable and flexible programs to tap into the growing global demand.