Increasing Competition For Attracting International Students

05/17/2017 06:42 am ET Updated May 17, 2017

The number of globally mobile international students doubled to reach 4 million between the period 1999 and 2013. Every third globally mobile student is enrolled in an American or British institution of higher education. However, with the Brexit and American Presidential elections, 2016 is likely to affect the choices of many international students to consider alternative destinations.

In my keynote presentation, “Three Waves of International Student Mobility: Implications for Recruitment and Partnership Strategies,” at International Universities Networking Conference - IUNC Eurasia 2017 in Moscow, Russia, I highlighted that institutions are facing an environment of hyper-competition, uncertainty and declining resources for attracting international students.

In an analysis of the financial impact of decreasing attractiveness of American higher education institutions, I estimate that a 5% decline in new enrollment of international students in 2017 could result in institutions potentially losing $250M in tuition and fees in one year alone.

The scenario of increasing competition for international students and its high impact on financial sustainability calls for institutions to become more informed and innovative with their recruitment strategies.

The presentation was based on my article analyzing the past, present and future of international student mobility from the lens of three overlapping waves spread over seven years between 1999 and 2020.

Wave one was shaped by the terrorist attacks of 2001 and the enrollment of international students at institutions seeking to build research excellence. Wave two was shaped by the global financial recession which brought financial motivations for recruiting international students. We are in Wave three which is being shaped by the impact of Brexit and the American presidential election.

In this Wave, some destinations and institutions are becoming more proactive in attracting international students.

In contrast to anti-immigrant narratives in the UK and the US, Ireland extended the option of staying back to 24 months for graduates at postgraduate and doctorate level and recognizing the importance of gaining work experience as one of the key motivations for many international students aiming to earn a degree abroad. Eva Page, International Recruitment Officer, University College Dublin, Ireland noted that “for a small country like Ireland which may not be on the radar for many international students, welcoming policies are an important differentiator to compete with traditional destinations like the US and the UK.”

Jerke Verschoor, Director, Nuffic Neso Russia, an office promoting study in Holland noted that “with the Ruble devaluation a couple of years back, the Euro became more expensive but relatively less so than the American dollar and the British pound. This is obviously in favor of EU countries, such as the Netherlands.” He added that the US elections and the Brexit might also have an effect on student mobility from Russia favorable for the Netherlands.

Bogdan Voronovskiy, General Director, Eastern European University Association noted that Russia serves as a bridge to Europe, emerging CIS countries and Asia. With China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, Russia will become even more important launching pad for international students.

Voronovskiy added that Russian institutions must do more to provide language and cultural support to international students. New programs in English that adapt to the new economic environment are critical in improving the attractiveness of Russia as a destination of choices for international students.

Valeriya Kotelnikova, Head of International Cooperation at the State University of Management in Moscow noted that “while most of our degree programs are in Russian we are constantly working towards growing enrollment in our academic exchanges and double degree programs to internationalize student experience.”

In sum, as the competition of international students intensifies, government policies must align with supporting institutions in attracting global talent. Likewise, institutions must pursue a more strategic approach to growing and diversifying enrollment in a competitive landscape.

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