There are more than 5 million international students in the world today. The OECD estimates that by 2025, students leaving their country to study abroad will reach 8 million per year.
So what is fueling the growth in student mobility at a time when most developed countries seem reluctant to open their borders to foreigners?
The answer to a great extent is a surge in intra-regional flow of students.
Several reports point out that more and more students are preferring to stay within their region to acquire international degrees.
A British Council study had predicted the growth in intra-regional flow back in 2012.
As per the study, although the US, UK, Australia, France, Germany, Russia, Japan and Canada among themselves hosted 60% of international students, other countries have been playing an increasingly important destination role at a regional level.
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The study had predicted that South Africa, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, South Korea, China and India will be among the top 10 host countries by 2020. Among these countries, China, Malaysia and Singapore have already made significant strides in attracting international students.
China hosted 377,054 international students in 2014. Most of the international students enrolled in China came from South Korea (62,923). The other major student sources for China were the Unites States (24, 203), Thailand (21,296), Russia (17,202), Japan (15,057), Indonesia (13,689), India (13,578).
Although the United States contributed the second highest number of international students to China, all other major source countries were from within the region.
So the Chinese government, which aims to increase the number of international students at its universities to 500,000 by 2020, will definitely help its universities expand their reach further in the regional market.
Malaysia is another Asian country pushing aggressively to increase the share of international students in its colleges. At the end of 2014, the country attracted 135,502 students from 160 nations. Most of the international students enrolled in Malaysia came from Bangladesh, Nigeria, China, Indonesia, Pakistan, and India. The country plans to enroll 250,000 students by 2025.
A recently released data by the South Korean Ministry of Justice show just over 100,000 foreign students have enrolled in the country’s universities in 2016. Chinese students made up the bulk of foreign students (62,318), followed by 8,293 Vietnamese students, 5,262 Mongolian students, 2,739 Japanese and 1,581 students from Uzbekistan. The government is planning a package of new initiatives to increase the enrollment figure to 200,000 by 2023.
Japan hosted 184,155 students in 2014. Most of the international students enrolled in Japan came from China (94,399). The other largest senders were South Korea (15,777), Vietnam (26,439). By May 2015, the country had 208,379 international students enrolled in its universities, most of them from ASEAN countries. The country plans to increase its share of international students to 300,000 students by 2020. It makes more sense to tap the regional market.
Although of late various traditionally dominant higher education destinations have been acknowledging the need for major overhaul to make their country attractive for international students, emerging destinations are acting much faster.
Students can acquire globally recognized degree at a fraction of a cost in China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Hong Kong. These countries are giving lots of thought to improving the quality of their higher education to make it more attractive for international students.
Affordability, cultural and regional familiarity, and close-to-home factors play important role in the students’ decision to enroll in universities within their region.
But more importantly, the growing international value of the degrees offered and flexible work-study as well as post study living options are also being cited by students as their reasons for choosing to study in a regional university.