09/18/2013 10:33 am ET Updated Nov 18, 2013

Education: A World of Opportunity

Between 1980 and 2010 the numbers of students studying abroad tripled. Today, more than three million people are studying for an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in a foreign country.

With businesses operating across borders as never before, there are many benefits to studying abroad, with the experience a selling point to potential employers -- whether in a student's home country or elsewhere in the world.

As the flow of students across the globe is increasing, the patterns of who studies where are also changing.

Over the past three decades, a significant number of students have chosen to study in Western countries. The U.S. and the UK are the most popular destinations, welcoming 30 percent of the world's international students. More than 100,000 Chinese students currently study in the UK.

Other countries are keen to challenge the U.S. and UK. Australia, for example, estimates that the inflow of international students was worth AUD16 billion to its economy in 2011, supporting some 100,000 jobs. The government is increasing its efforts to attract foreign students -- signing cooperation agreements with countries such as India and China, reforming its Student Visa Programme, and encouraging every Australian university to establish an exchange arrangement with Asian partners.

But it is not just developed economies competing to attract students from rising powers. HSBC research suggests that emerging economies will account for the largest share of global growth over the coming decades, and many Western economies now encourage people to make connections at an early age by studying in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

The British Council, for example, aims to radically increase the number of British students traveling to China from around 3,500 in 2011 to 15,000. Individual institutions, such as the Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands, have established dedicated centers to strengthen relations with China. Philanthropists are also encouraging the flow of students from West to East. The Schwarzman Scholars program aims to help 160 international students from the U.S. and other countries study in Beijing.

If universities in emerging nations invest and grow, they will increasingly be able to compete for the brightest students from every country. This will challenge the universities of the West, spurring them to innovate and focus on the needs of students.

With rising affluence, particularly in developing markets, and an increasingly competitive workplace that demands quality and a global outlook, the appetite for international education is likely to continue to grow. But for those who wish to educate their children overseas, there is a need to consider more than just tuition fees and factor in living costs, exchange rates and inflation.

Many people are even using their retirement savings to pay for their children's education and nearly one quarter (24 percent) of people cited the cost of their children's education as significantly affecting their ability to save for old age, according to an HSBC study. In some of the 15 countries covered by the study, which surveyed 15,000 people, the figure was much higher. In India it was 36 percent; in China and the United Arab Emirates 34 percent; and in Mexico and Malaysia 32 percent.

It is vital that the true cost of education is considered, but for those who look ahead there are more choices and opportunities than ever before.

  • In 2010 at least 3.6 million students were studying abroad
  • 17 percent of international students come from China, more than any other country
  • The U.S. is the top destination for international students: more than 750,000 enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities for the 2011-12 academic year, contributing USD22 billion to the U.S. economy
  • The British Council aims to increase the number of British students studying in China from 3,500 in 2011 to 15,000

Seven Asian universities were ranked among the world's top 50 in the Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings 2013:

  • University of Tokyo
  • National University of Singapore
  • Kyoto University
  • Tsinghua University
  • University of Hong Kong
  • Seoul National University
  • Peking University