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Employability driving mobility, says OECD

Nearly 4.3 million students studied tertiary education outside their country of citizenship in 2011, up from 4.1 million in 2010 according to the OECD‘s latest Education at a Glance report – the most thorough picture of the international student market available.

Asia was the largest student source in 2011 by a large margin, sending around 53%

Drawing on the most recent comprehensive statistics available, the report shows that Australia, Germany, France, the US, Canada and the UK continued to dominate study destinations during 2010-11, receiving a combined 50% of all foreign students worldwide. Asia unsurprisingly was the largest source region, representing 53% of all foreign students enrolled.

Comparing the latest data to the year 2000, however, new trends are gaining traction. These include the ascendancy of non-traditional study destinations, the ongoing slowdown in demand for the US, and the rise in importance of employability for foreign graduates.

In many countries there is also a growing demand for highly qualified immigrant workers

Prima facie, the report is divided over the effect of the global economic crisis on students, arguing that that shrinking support for scholarships and grants and straitened personal budgets could slow mobility. However, it says, “limited labour-market opportunities in students’ countries of origin may increase the attractiveness of studying abroad as a way to gain a competitive edge, and thus boost student mobility.”

In addition, there is a growing demand for highly qualified immigrant workers in many countries. All of the reporting OECD countries, except Germany, had a larger proportion of international students enrolled in advanced research programmes than in any other tertiary-level course in the period. A quarter of all international students in Switzerland, meanwhile, were enrolled in advanced research programmes, 19% of the USA’s population and 18% of Spain’s.

“The internationalisation of labour markets for highly skilled people has also given students an incentive to gain international experience as part of their higher education,” claims the report.

Andreas Schleicher, head of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) at the OECD, said that vocational education was providing international students with employable skill sets, too. On average, international students amounted to 4% of all enrolments on shorter, vocationally oriented courses. Meanwhile, VET accounted for 44% of all international enrolments in Chile, 33% in Greece and 21% in New Zealand.

Despite difficulties in measuring the quality and value of vocational education, Schleicher said: “In countries where we do have robust data, there’s a very strong case showing that vocational education is a huge advantage for getting people into work.”

Another major trend charted is the United States’ weakening grasp on the global student market

Screen shot 2013-06-25 at 14.36.23Another major trend charted is the United States’ weakening grasp on the global student market (although its numbers in real terms continue to rise). Over the last decade, US market share dropped from about 23% to 17%, with ground ceded to other English-speaking destinations such as the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Despite recent barriers to growth, 10% or more of the total student population in these nations hails from abroad.

The report also shows the emergence of non-traditional study destinations such as Japan and Russia, which each attracted 4% of all foreign students, or Spain which received 2%. There are also growing numbers studying in Oceania, where students have tripled since 2000 from 118,646 to 343, 298, due to closer geopolitical ties between Asia-Pacific countries.

Latin America, Asia and the Caribbean have also upped their numbers, “reflecting the internationalisation of universities in an increasing number of countries” in the regions.

In terms of outbound mobility not much has changed, however. Asia was the largest student sender in 2011 by a large margin (53%), led by China, India and Korea. Europe followed, sending around 23% of all international students.

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