Here are 3 ways the international student landscape is changing

In 2021, the U.K. received the most Chinese students compared to any other country, anchored by a 41% increase from the 2017-18 academic year to the 2021-22 academic year.

International student enrollment in the U.S. experienced a major rebound this year, topping 1 million students, and is steadily approaching some of the best numbers since before the pandemic. While domestic student enrollment is poised for a small comeback, international student enrollment is playing a bigger role in institutions’ revenue-generating playbook.

As U.S. higher education fights to keep its revenue afloat, recruitment strategies used by other countries to attract their own robust cohorts of international students pose a challenge. Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia are increasing their efforts to draw in swaths of students from India, China and beyond, says Travis Ulrich, vice president of customer experience at Terra Dotta, a global engagement platform.

“There are a lot of data out there, interviews and surveys that indicate the U.S. remains the top choice for the majority of international students,” he says, “but that doesn’t mean that the U.S. isn’t facing increased competition from other countries.”

Signs suggest U.S. dominance in attracting international student cohorts is not as fortified as they have historically been. In 2021, the U.K. received the most Chinese students of any country, anchored by a 41% increase from the 2017-18 academic year to the 2021-22 academic year. In Australia, the number of international students has risen nearly fourfold in the past two decades, to 440,000 in 2019, The Economist reports.

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International students looking elsewhere

Springing out of the pandemic, Australia, China, Canada, and others have grown an appetite to aggressively recruit international students.

Through intentional policy intervention, Canada is helping remove barriers to international students’ pathways to residency by streamlining the visa process.

“There is always a pathway for our students to get a permanent residence, and that makes us stronger as a country and as a society,” says Juan Mavo-Navarro, assistant dean of lifelong learning and innovation at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies.

Sixty percent of international students, particularly those enrolled in Master’s and Doctoral degrees, plan to apply for permanent residence in Canada, according to the 2021 Canadian Bureau for International Education’s (CBIE) International Student Survey.

Students who know they can streamline residency forms quicker will also be motivated to attend a college in that country because they can begin aligning job prospects quicker, especially in high-valued STEM fields. South Korea recently announced similar policy measures to attract their own chunk of students.

Moreover, the luster toward attending a prestigious U.S. school may be dimming as other countries climb international university rankings. “For Asian kids, we value the rankings a lot,” said one Chinese student attending the University of Sydney, according to The Economist.

The U.K. is spending millions of dollars on third-party education agents overseas to reel in students across the globe, The Guardian reports. Agents, which Ulrich says Australia has also recently invested in, provide boots-on-the-ground brand representatives that can uncover potential students, connect them with the application process and guide them through it.

“It’s kind of creating that warm hand-off to them matriculating to the institution,” says Ulrich.

Cons to attending the U.S.

A chief reason international students may choose another country to attend is the U.S.’s high costs. In a report that gathered responses from roughly 200 U.S. colleges and 100 education agencies, the No. 1 barrier to recruiting students to the U.S. was the costs of studying and living, according to ICEF Monitor, a market intelligence resource for the international education industry. Following right behind costs were visa issues.

However, the U.S. is not alone. Canada and Australia are looking to tighten migration regulations in 2024 as the number of international students is on the verge of outpacing housing infrastructure and spiking costs, ICEF Monitor reports.

Offsetting costs, America also faces a contentious political climate and a high rate of gun violence. The rate of gun-related deaths is seven times that of Canada, and China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the U.S.’ string of domestic gun violence incidents a “recurring nightmare” earlier this year.

To combat parents’ fears, Ulrich has seen U.S. institutions ramp up pre-departure orientations and connect with parents.

“These institutions are looking to put the best foot forward, proactively communicate what their campuses offer and just create more of a welcoming posture and environment to those students to help alleviate some of those concerns,” he says.

Is online education leveling the playing field?

The enthusiasm for online education is growing beyond our borders. Students who value flexibility and affordable education can connect with institutions worldwide via continued learning opportunities.

“What institutions see is a cost-effective opportunity to expand their global reach,” says Ulrich. “It allows them to essentially transcend geographical boundaries to help build and expand their program offering.”

The “appetite and demand” for continuing education modules at the University of Toronto has continued to grow in the seven years Mavo-Navarro has worked there. The university has utilized Modern Campus’s Destiny One non-traditional student information system to create targeted marketing campaigns, refine course offerings and develop long-term relationships with students taking short-term, non-degree courses.

“As an educator, I question the shelf life of many degrees. If students feel that there is still a need to further their education to remain competitive, to pivot within their industry or even to go to another industry, people need training and education,” he says. “And it’s the same reality for international students.”

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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