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Mobility “to plateau” by 2020, British Council

A new report from the British Council has claimed that the number of internationally mobile students will grow at a much slower rate in the next ten years, with major study destinations unlikely to match the soaring recruitment they enjoyed over the last decade.

"Major markets such as China, South Korea and India are likely send students abroad at lower or similar rates by 2020"

Growth in global mobility will slow to 11% by 2020, tempering the rapid rises of the last decade

The shape of things to come: Higher education global trends and emerging opportunities to 2020
, which was released on the opening day of the Going Global conference, looks at 50 countries comprising the bulk of global tertiary enrollments. It predicts that major markets such as China, South Korea and India are likely to send students abroad at lower or similar rates by 2020 – a very different picture to 2002-2009 – due to factors such as lower birth rates, a slowdown in overall tertiary participation, and a catch-up in tertiary standards in the developing world.

This trajectory would be broadly reflected in host countries. The report predicts inbound growth rates will remain flat for the US, Japan, Germany and France, and rise in Australia and the UK but at a significantly slower rate than before.

“I think everybody already is experiencing slowdown over the past few years – both in economic terms but also wider than that,” said Janet Illeva, director of research at the British Council. She added that numbers studying abroad would not peak in the next decade but that the situation was “more of a plateau”.

The report suggests that China will be instrumental in the slowdown, remaining the largest origin market for international students, but predicted to climb only 17,000 students to 585,000 by 2020 – despite having been responsible for a third of all outbound mobile students between 2002 and 2009.

South Korea, tipped to remain the third biggest sender, would remain stable, growing just 7,000 to 134,000 by 2020. Meanwhile, India would be the source of most new demand increasing from 211,000 to 296,000, around 71,000 students, but this compares with growth of 125,000 students between 2002 and 2009. Other markets will grow, but not fast enough to offset the Chinese deceleration, says the report.

Some study destinations also stand to benefit more than others. According to the report, Australia would welcome the most international students – an additional 50,000 students (on top of the current 258,000) – thanks to its proximity to Asia. The UK would follow with an additional 30,000, although student visa policy may hamper this. Canada, Spain and Brazil are also tipped for strong growth.

Illeva said that the sector would consequently face “more competition in the next decade” between established student destinations, and emerging ones, although she predicts that there will be “much wider collaboration both in transnational education and research”.

Commenting on the UK’s prospects, Dr Jo Beall, the British Council’s Director of Education and Society, said: “Our study shows that the next ten years are critical – the UK has a decade of opportunity ahead of it, if its universities, colleges, business leaders and policy makers are ready to take decisive steps to engage with the global higher education market.”

“The UK has a decade of opportunity ahead of it”

While reliable data is not yet available, the report says it is not impossible that the fastest growing inbound markets in future could be countries such as China, Singapore, Malaysia and a Gulf state as they work to improve standards and thrive as regional education hubs.

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