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International university applications are on the rise for students from Asia

As the IB Global Conference in Singapore draws to a close, we take a look at trends for international education in Asia.

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The benefits of an international education are well-known by many: students broaden their experience, get exposure to different cultures, and make lifelong connections. As the IB Global Conference in Singapore comes to an end, we’ve been looking into where students from schools in Asia are applying to university.

How many students are coming to the UK and US?

According to HESA, the number of students from Asian countries coming to the UK has risen. The number of Chinese students far exceeds any other nationality; almost one third of non-EU students in the UK are from China. China is the only country showing a significant increase in student numbers to the UK (a 14% rise since 2012-13), although there has been a slower increase of only 2% since 2014. However, last year, the number of Chinese students in the UK grew by 4.2%, despite an overall decline of student applications from non-EU countries of 1% in the same period. There’s a total of 91,000 Chinese students in the UK; the next largest number of non-EU students in the UK is from India, but that number has declined by 26% since 2012-13.

In the US, the situation is slightly different. A study by Open Doors reveals that Chinese students are still the largest group of Asian students in US universities – 350,000 – and their numbers have risen by 6.8% in the last year. Students from India are the next largest group – 16,8000 – an increase of 12% from 2017.

A study by the University of Oxford, titled ‘International Trends in Higher Education’, shows that while international study is increasing, many students are choosing to study overseas but closer to home. Their figures show a year-on-year reduction since 2012 in the number of Chinese postgraduates studying at US universities.

What’s behind this change?

The UK is still attractive to students from Asia, but one of the key reasons for a slowdown is the investment that has taken place in Chinese and Japanese universities and the improvement in their research facilities. Many Chinese universities have significantly improved their position in league tables. Japan has a growth target of 300,000 international students by 2024 to fill its excess capacity. Currently 91% of Japan’s international students come from Asia.

Chinese students flock to Germany

Germany’s international student population rose by 7.8% last year, and France’s by 3.6%. Both have smaller total percentages of international students compared to the UK.

Germany’s target is 350,000 international students by 2020. The largest rise is in Chinese students, who total 28,000. Many of these students are studying for masters degrees in engineering; 60% want to find employment in Germany and are attracted by the gap in the employment market for qualified engineers. Germany has abolished tuition fees for first degrees and fees for higher degrees are lower than the UK’s. However, living costs are not insignificant and Chinese students still need independent financial means.

The effect on UK and US students

The effect on the UK is complex. Research by Oxford Economics shows that international students contribute around £25.8 billion gross to the UK economy, on and off campus. Without this investment, universities would need to find other funding. But there is concern that fluctuations in demand from specific countries for courses could reduce the number of places for UK students. Conversely, a reduction in international numbers could result in fewer courses and subjects being available. In the US there is a concern that an influx of international students would limit the places available to US students. At the same time, changing laws around immigration may affect international students’ choice of destination.

The outlook

A study by the British Council in 2012 predicted that by 2023 India and China would contribute 35% of global growth in international students. The UK and US are ranked as the most popular destinations. While that prediction appears to be on track, it remains to be seen what will happen to student choices from the rest of Asia, if Australia and mainland Europe will continue to grow in popularity, challenging the dominance of the UK and the US, and whether institutions closer to home will be able to compete for talent. It is certain, however, that when it comes to trends in international education, Asian students will be a major part of the conversation no matter what.

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