Global outbound student growth at decades-low pace

by Kevin Prest
Higher Education Institutions

The number of countries sending students overseas to study will continue to grow for the rest of the decade, a new report has found, but that growth will be slower than the previous two decades.

The projection was made possible by a new indicator that has identified the correlation between world gross domestic product (GDP) growth and outbound student numbers per nation.

The report, commissioned by the British Council and conducted by Oxford Economics, found that when a country’s share of global GDP goes up so does its share of global outbound students.

The new measure is shown to have tracked the volume of outbound students accurately since UNESCO records began in 1998. Given this strong historical association, researchers say that the measure provides a strong indication of the future trajectory of global outbound international student numbers.

The report found that world GDP growth is expected to slow to an average pace of 4.2 per cent per year in the period to 2030, reduced from a rate of around 5.5 per cent per year in the two decades prior to the pandemic.

This indicates that while the global outlook for international student numbers remains positive, the period to 2030 is likely to be characterised by modestly weaker growth at around 4-4.5 per cent per year on average in the period to 2030.

Amidst a more competitive international environment to 2030, continued growth in student recruitment will depend on a more strategic approach to targeting of markets and allocation of resources, say researchers.

The most significant slowdown in growth rate terms is anticipated in China, with noteworthy slowdowns also expected in other key outbound markets including India, Vietnam, Nigeria and Indonesia. Only Brazil and Pakistan are projected to see an increase in the pace of growth in the 2019-30 period, researchers found.

China and India are expected to remain the leading senders of international students at the global level to 2030, while Bangladesh, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam have been identified as countries with projected growth in outbound students.

High-income advanced economies including Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong (SAR), Ireland, Italy, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Spain combine relatively low growth prospects with stability and diversity to the UK higher education sector.

The countries of Brazil, Ghana, Mexico, Nigeria and Turkey face a range of macroeconomic challenges which weigh against growth in total outbound student mobility over the medium term but they will remain important recruitment markets for the UK to 2030, though primarily by winning market share from alternative study destinations.

Maddalaine Ansell, Director Education at the British Council said: “At a time of increased competition for international students, the UK must work to maintain its position as a global leader in higher education. This study outlines that although international student numbers will continue to grow, we should not be complacent. The British Council will continue to engage with the UK higher education sector, help reflect on this slow-down in growth, and consider how it can attract students from some of the developing markets identified in the research.”

This article is based on the British Council report The outlook for international student mobility: amidst a changing global macroeconomic landscape.


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