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International students contribute millions to Hawaiian economy

International students generated an economic output of $497.5m in the State of Hawai’i last year, a new report by the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism has shown, but there is a growing shift towards short-term courses.

Coconut Island, a marine research facility of the University of Hawai'i. Photo: The PIE News

On average, students spent overall $18,697 a year for living expenses and tuition fees

“While the overall number of international students studying in the US declined, Hawai’i’s numbers are holding steady thanks to our continued marketing,” Dennis Ling, administrator of the Business Development & Support Division, which leads the program for international student exchanges said.

“Our overall numbers are increasing and this led to an increase in revenue, but the nature of the students has shifted somehow”

The report showed that international student spending supported 5,264 jobs, generated $219.8m in household income and $38.2m in state taxes in 2017. On average, students spent overall $18,697 a year for living expenses and tuition fees.

There were a total of 12,916 international students in Hawai’i in 2017,  with short-term students account for over half of all international student numbers.

Although figures are not directly comparable to last year’s survey, Study Hawai’i director Joel Weaver told The PIE News that there has definitely been an increase over the past year – but mostly for short-term students on specialised training programs, including language courses, a trend that Weaver said Hawai’i has observed since 2011/12.

According to the report, short-term students account for over half of all international student numbers.

 

“Our overall numbers are increasing and this led to an increase in revenue, but the nature of the students has shifted somehow,” he explained.

“There has been an increase of those who come for short courses, between one month and six months – and we have seen an increase for language schools.”

In order to attract more long-term students, Weaver said the consortium is promoting Hawai’i’s excellences: tourism, especially ecotourism, space and marine science, cross-cultural and linguistic studies, as well as specialised training in disaster relief, which is attracting interest from partners in South East Asia.

Some consortium members, he said, are also developing certificate courses in those areas to capitalise on the increase in short-term students.

Weaver added that the positive results from the economic impact survey may stimulate state investment in the sector’s expansion efforts, outlined in a strategy presented last year during International Education Week.

“Finally, we are getting the attention of the local community on the social, cultural and economic benefits of increasing our international education engagement,” he said.

“What we have been doing as a consortium is dependent on a very small amount [of funding] from the state…imagine if there was actual funding going into our strategic plan: within 10 years we could easily double [student] numbers.”

In terms of target markets, Weaver said the focus is on East and South East Asia. The State of Hawai’i also signed an agreement with the Indian state of Goa, working on the development of a joint university program with the long-term plan to increase Hawai’i’s presence as an educational destination in India.

“Imagine if there was actual funding going into our strategic plan: within 10 years we could easily double [student] numbers”

The top-three source markets highlighted in the DBEDT report remained unchanged since last year: Japan tops the chart with 29.9% of all international students, followed by Korea and China.

Other top-sending countries in Asia included the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam, while in Europe Switzerland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and France topped the ranks.

However, two countries which previously held high-ranking positions disappeared from the top-25: Brazil and Saudi Arabia.

Brazil’s dramatic decline can be partially attributed to the end of its Scientific Mobility Program, the report explains, while Saudi Arabia’s can be explained with changes to the country’s scholarship programs.

A sharp decline in students from Saudi Arabia was also noted in IEP programs across the US in IIE data earlier this year.

The report is based on the responses of the Hawai’i International Education survey, which is run every year by DBEDT in collaboration with Study Hawai’i. Responses were received from 34 educational institutions in Hawai’i.

 

 

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