Source - OECD, Education at a Glance 2017:OECD Indicators
OECD report shows slowdown in student mobility

The number of students pursuing higher education programmes overseas hit 4.6 million in 2015, but the growth trajectory has slowed in recent years, according to the latest report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The annual Education at a Glance 2017:OECD Indicators research highlights rapid growth between 1995, when the number of globally mobile tertiary students stood at 1.7 million, to 2010 when it reached 4.2 million, but said that subsequent increases have been more incremental - just 0.4 per cent from 2014 to 2015.


Within the member countries of the OECD, there were 3.3 million international students in 2015, the organisation said. Asia was comfortably the largest source region for international students in OECD countries, accounting for 1.56 million students in 2015. Three-quarters of these were concentrated in just three countries: the USA (44 per cent), Australia (16) and the UK (15).


Europe was the second-largest source region, providing 782,000 mobile students, of which 82 per cent circulated within Europe, followed by Africa (254,000) and the Americas (265,000).


The USA hosted 27.5 per cent of the 3.3 million mobile tertiary students in the OECD area, followed by the UK (13 per cent), Australia (8.9), France (7.2) and Germany (6.9).


Among the major study destinations, New Zealand had the highest ratio of international students in its higher education system at 26 per cent, followed by the UK (22), Switzerland (20) and Australia (18). The authors noted that Luxembourg had a higher ratio (45.9 per cent) but was considered an outlier due to its relatively small size.


The OECD indicates that students become more mobile as they reach higher education levels. It estimates that international students constituted 5.6 per cent of total tertiary enrolments across OECD countries in 2015, but more than a quarter of enrolments at doctorate level.


"Several factors could account for these trends: capacity constraints in the countries of origin may be particularly severe as education levels increase; returns on investing in international students, particularly in prestigious institutions, may be higher at higher levels of tertiary education; and students who are more likely to travel and live abroad because of their socio-economic background are also more likely to access more advanced educational programmes," the authors said.


"For host countries, there are strong incentives to invest in these later education stages, especially doctorate level, because graduates from this educational level make a large contribution to research and development and innovation, and to addressing socio-economic challenges."


The authors stated that while international enrolment at undergraduate level was below 10 per cent in most OECD countries, the destinations that bucked that trend were: Australia (13.3 per cent); Austria (18.4); Luxembourg (25.5); New Zealand (16); and the UK (14).


The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects were the most popular field of study, the OECD said, accounting for more than a third of all international students, with a further 28 per cent enrolled in business, administration and law. At doctorate level the predominance of STEM subjects was clearer at 59 per cent.


The OECD notes that while student inflows into Europe and the USA remain relatively steady, the latest data "shows a polarisation of student flows around new locations, signalling increased educational capacities worldwide", and cites Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Brazil, Chile and Turkey as destinations that recorded double-digit growth between 2013 and 2015.


The full report is available on the OECD website.



By Matthew Knott

News Editor