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Global Education Bubble
The Market in International Students

U.S. universities have had a banner year in attracting foreign students, according to recent report from the Institute of International Education (IIE) and the State Department. The WaPo summarizes:

There were 886,052 foreigners enrolled in U.S. higher education in the 2013-2014 school year, the Institute of International Education and the State Department said in a report called “Open Doors.” The total rose more than 66,000 compared with 2012-2013, the eighth straight year of growth.

Chinese students make up 31 percent of foreign enrollment, the largest single bloc. Their total grew 17 percent, to about 274,000. The number of Saudi students grew 21 percent, to nearly 54,000. Saudi Arabia now ranks fourth as a student exporter to the United States.

India, which ranks second, sent about 103,000 students, up 6 percent. South Korea, which ranks third, sent about 68,000, down 4 percent.

According to the Department of Commerce, international students enriched the American economy to the tune of more than $27 billion in 2013. Given that many schools are still cash-strapped after the recession, these students are an important source of revenue. Public schools now see far less funding from states than they used to, for one thing, and international students (as out-of state students) pay several times the price of in-state tuition. Indeed, raising fees for out-of-state students was floated as an alternative to hiking in-state rates during the recent blow-up over California tuition hikes. That’s a trade-off that other state systems have certainly made, and will keep making.

But though the U.S. still attracts the lion’s share of international students, other countries are stepping up. As CNN Money reports, according to OECD data (which only runs through 2012), the U.S. doesn’t dominate the market in international students in quite the way it once did:

In 2000, nearly one in four students looking for education abroad picked a college in the U.S. […] In 2012 — the latest year for which data is available — it was just 16%.

Although the U.S. still attracts the highest proportion of foreign students, other countries are becoming increasingly popular, biting into the U.S. market share.

All other English-speaking developed countries and Spain have increased their share of foreign students.

The United Kingdom has seen the biggest growth in its share, trailing closely behind the U.S. with 12.6%. This is good news for British universities; foreign students pay up to three times more in tuition than students from Britain and the EU.

The OECD predicts that the number of students studying abroad worldwide will nearly double by 2025, reaching 8 million—so there may be plenty of students to go around for a while yet. The trends in market share are well worth watching, however. While the U.S. is still in the lead, we’re not the only country whose higher education system is feeling the strain of a global economic slowdown. If other countries keep getting more successful at soliciting foreign students, the U.S. may eventually find itself with stiffer competition for a valuable resource.

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  • Fat_Man

    This is the single most import fact that lays bare the tower of bovine dejecta that the colleges feed the American public to scrounge more money from their bleeding wallets. What does the record number of foreign students [see above] tell us about the higher education business?

    First it tells us that it really is all about the Benjamins. Glories of the liberal arts? Not the foreigners. They can’t read English well enough to deconstruct the heteronormative violence inherent in Shakespeare. They are over in the engineering quad studying computer programming.

    Second, I have heard many college presidents tell students and parents that their tuition dollars, even if paid in cash at retail, do not begin to cover the cost of their four years at Old Siwash. If that were true, they wouldn’t be rooting around the farthest corners of Shen-dong province looking for cash customers. They would be reducing their losses by cutting the number of students.

    Third, the whole thing makes the colleges complaints that governments are shorting them look very shabby. Why should the government pump money into higher education either by direct grant, student loans and grants, or tax exemptions? The answer as I understand it is that the future of our country depends on a citizenry that has college degrees. If that is so, why do the the colleges, who are selling it to foreigners, deserve subsidies from the taxpayers?

    Those of you who believe that spending their bright college years in the ivy covered walls, will cause foreign students to become friends of
    the United States would do well to contemplate the example of an Egyptian school teacher named Sayyid Qtub, who spent a year at an
    American college and was so appalled by what he saw there, that he went back to Egypt and became one of the founders of radical Islamism.

    A note about the grad students. Many of them are mere lab servants spending a few years watching test tubes go drip, drip, drip in
    the labs of the Principal Investigators. If they were making tennis shoes you would cry for them. If the PIs had to hire Americans and pay
    them a decent wage, it would restrict the conference budget.

  • Andrew Allison

    I think that the strain which US colleges are feeling has much more to do with ridiculously inflated tuition and increasing scepticism about the cost/benefit of a (typically six-year) degree than the global economic slow down.

  • Josephbleau

    The Univ of Il Champain Urbana is a super school that has set a good percentage of it’s capacity to overseas full paying students and it probably helps pay the bills but I am sad for the instate kids who don’t get to go because of this yet whose parents pay high state taxes. I think it is very true that these students study Nuclear or aerospace engineering and computer (hacking) science that is tactically useful to their army. US educated Nuc E grads built the Indian bomb.

  • Corlyss

    If we changed the immigration laws to allow people with skills and education, as opposed to the illiterate, unskilled for which there seems to be such a great love in the political class, I bet the rate would skyrocket. Every foreign student coming here knows they are on a timer, and if they stick to the rules that they have to get out just when they become the most valuable.

  • Alex K.

    The UK seems to owe its outsized global influence in part to its ability to draw students from the upper and upper-middle classes all over the world not merely to its universities but to its private boarding schools, a peculiarly British institution.

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