American Higher Education Has Untapped Potential for Attracting International Students: Latest OECD Data

American universities and colleges are not attracting as many international students as its competitors, according to the latest data released by OECD. The Education at a Glance report noted that the United States is the leading destination attracting 26 percent of all the globally mobile students followed by the United Kingdom (15 percent), France (11 percent), Germany (10 percent) and Australia (8 percent). However, the U.S. is lagging behind when considering the relative size of its higher education system.

The share of international students in the total enrollment at the tertiary level is only 4 percent for the U.S. as compared to 18 percent for the U.K. and Australia. Looking deeper, there are differences by the level of education. Here are the highlights:

  • Bachelor’s level: The U.K. surpasses the U.S. by a wide margin. In the U.K., international students form 14 percent of total enrollments at the bachelor’s level as compared to only 3 percent for the U.S.
  • Master’s level: Australia beats the U.S. by four-fold ratio at the master’s level. In Australia, international students form 40 percent of total enrollments at the master’s level as compared to just 9 percent for the U.S.
  • Doctorate level: American research universities are highly competitive in attracting talent at the doctorate level. One-third of all students in doctorate level are international students comparable to Australia, France, and the U.K.

Much of the growth in the recent years in the U.S. has been concentrated in top universities which already attracted a large number of international students due to their global reputation and rankings. The majority of American universities and colleges have not yet built a strong capacity to strategically recruit and support international students.

Australia is one country which has been proactive and strategic in recruiting international students and retaining global talent. It has gone through its various phases of growth and innovation to remain competitive in attracting international students. (I have been invited to present on "Three Megatrends Shaping the Future of International Student Mobility" at the Australian International Education Conference (AIEC), Melbourne).

While international students have a strong preference for coming to the U.S. as a destination and gain a global experience, many institutions are struggling to translate that interest into the affordable and valuable experience for international students. No doubt, there is increasing concern among international students about the return on investing in studying the U.S. Future growth will require a strategic approach to invest in improving the experiences of international students.

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