Of 451 universities surveyed for the report, 39% said that international recruitment is driving an increase in their student population. Widening access and participation (41%) and changes in admissions policies (28%) are also key drivers of growth.
“There seems to be a growing realisation that in the age of globalisation it is necessary to bolster a local or regional mission with international outreach”
“The composition of the student body is changing… in particular due to the major efforts undertaken to recruit international students from both EU and non-EU countries,” the report states.
Previously published every two years, this is the first time the study – which presents universities’ perceptions of changes in European higher education – has been conducted since 2010.
More than two thirds of the universities surveyed (69%) have seen non-EU enrolments rise over the last five years, while 64% have seen an increase in EU students.
In fact, 100% of the Danish respondents said international recruitment is driving student growth, along with 92% of the universities in the UK and 86% in the Netherlands.
Internationalisation was rated as “highly important” by 69% of respondents, up 8% since 2010.
In addition, an overwhelming 92% of respondents agreed with the statement that “internationalisation contributes to improving learning and teaching”.
“There seems to be a growing realisation that in the age of globalisation and heightened international competition it is necessary to bolster a local or regional mission with international outreach, and that these categories may soon matter less as universities increasingly operate on multiple levels,” the report states.
Half of the universities surveyed already have an internationalisation strategy in place
The vast majority (93%) of institutions have or are developing an internationalisation strategy, the study found. Half of the universities surveyed have one in place already, while a further 8% intend to develop one and 35% have included internationalisation as an element of their overall institutional strategy.
The report observes an overall progression among European universities “from smaller to wider communities”, meaning universities which have previously consolidated their position nationally are now positioning themselves on the regional or global stage.
It identifies a need for an overarching internationalisation strategy for the EU, citing an EUA member consultation in 2013 in which 91% of respondents said that there would be “added value in having an EU strategy for internationalisation”.
Looking at key markets for international student recruitment, the EU was considered one of the top three most important regions by three quarters of the responding universities.
92% agreed that “internationalisation contributes to improving learning and teaching”
“Interest in Europe is the ‘baseline’ for the international strategy of most higher education institutions in Europe if only because the bulk of student mobility is within Europe, also due to funding provided by the EU, Schengen regime etc.” Andrée Sursock, senior adviser at EUA and the report’s author, told The PIE News.
The study also argues that non-EU recruitment is “only partly” linked to the possibility of charging higher fees. It also cites an increase in recruitment of non-EU students even in countries where they do not pay higher fees.
Ireland (29%) and the UK (33%) showed the lowest levels of interest in recruiting from within the EU, which may be partially due to their differentiated fees for EU and non-EU students.
Half of the universities polled also said that Asia was an important source region, while a third mentioned the US/Canada and just under a third Eastern Europe (non-EU).
Universities are now taking a bigger share of students from Asia and Latin America, according to the report, while Europe is considered as important as it was five years ago. In contrast, other regions have lost ground in terms of their importance to institutions for international student recruitment, it says.
“Asia and Latin America are taking a bigger share: I think this reflects the emergence of stronger economies and henceforth stronger higher education systems,” Sursock said.
The survey also identifies an upward trend in the importance institutions place on global academic rankings: 33% of the university respondents said that they consider league tables to be “highly important” – up 10% compared to five years ago.
The Trends 2015 survey was completed by universities across 46 countries, representing 10 million students – around a quarter of the students enrolled in the European Higher Education Area.