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USA: International graduate students fuel first-time enrolment growth

First-time international graduate student numbers in the US were up by 11.5% in 2013 bolstering overall enrolment figures as domestic numbers continue to fall, data published by the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) shows.

An increase in temporary residents enrolling as first-time graduate students fuels a 1% rise in overall first time enrolments, despite a 0.9% fall in domestic figures, the report shows.

International students made up more than half of all first-time enrolees in mathematics and computer sciences, engineering, and physical and earth sciences

One in five new graduate students in the US was a temporary resident in 2013, according to the Graduate Enrolment and Degrees: 2003 to 2013 report, contributing to an average annual increase of 6.8% among first-time international graduate enrolments over the last five years.

“Welcoming more of the world’s top talent will help our economy, especially if we allow more international graduates to stay and work in the US”

The boom in foreign graduate student fuels the modest 1% rise in overall first-time enrolments, hampered by the 0.9% fall in domestic figures, the report shows.

Despite healthy growth among first-time international enrolments, Suzanne Ortega, CGS President argued that more US graduates are needed to ensure the US remains economically competitive as enrolments are failing to match projected growth in jobs requiring advanced degrees.

“International students are making vital contributions to graduate education and research,” she commented. “Welcoming more of the world’s top talent will help our economy, especially if we allow more international graduates to stay and work in the US after completing their degrees.”

The concentration of international enrolees was highest in STEM fields, where they accounted for more than half of all first-time enrolments in mathematics and computer sciences, engineering, and physical and earth sciences.

This is despite a slight decline in first-time international graduate enrolment in biological and agricultural sciences and physical and earth sciences, which fell by 5.4% and 2.8% respectively. These were the only broad subject areas to see a decline apart from education, which fell by 5.5%.

Mathematics and computer sciences saw the biggest increase, up by a third on 2012, followed by engineering, which rose by 15%.

The dramatic increase in STEM enrolments was driven by high demand among Indian students, which CGS’s International Graduate Admissions Survey shows fuelled international graduate student growth in 2013, Jeff Allum, director of research and policy analysis at CGS told The PIE News.

“Applicants from India are heavily concentrated in STEM, even more so than students from China, for whom business and STEM are equally big draws,” he commented.

One in five new graduate students in the US was a temporary resident in 2013

Private institutions attracted a higher proportion of temporary resident first-time graduate enrolees than public institutions: 23.1%, compared to 19.4%.

And research intensive institutions continue to attract the largest proportion of foreign graduate enrolments – 58.9% of temporary resident first-time graduate students  enroled at research universities with very high research activity, representing 28.6% of first-time graduate enrolees.

Temporary residents also accounted for 22.4% of first-time enrolments at institutions with high research activity.

Meanwhile just 9.7% of first-time enrolments on graduate programmes at master’s colleges and universities and 11.2% of those at doctoral/research universities were temporary residents.

Allum said that growth is expected to continue in the coming years, though it is unlikely to match last year’s boom.

“The 11.5% growth in 2013 was especially high,” he said. “We’re not ready to call 2013 the new ‘normal’ yet.”

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