The research, supported by the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade (part of the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism) and the association EDUESPANA, found that the estimated cohort of 616,788 international students enrolled in the academic year 2017/18 contributed approximately € 2,143,631,704 to the Spanish economy.
“There is a lack of understanding of the benefits that derive from the presence of international students”
It also found that for every euro spent on an academic program, international students spent €0.86 on other sectors of the economy, and estimated that international students support 5,340 FTEs in the education sector alone.
Although, according to the report, international education is now a “major economic sector” for Spain, its benefits are not immediately understood by the wider public.
“There is a general lack of understanding and appreciation for both the economic impact and the social benefits which derive from the presence of international students, not only in Spain but probably in several other European countries,” Cristina Grasset, one of the authors of the report, told The PIE News.
“We hope the data-based evidence in our report will help spread the message, raise awareness and improve the perception of stakeholders and government agencies.”
Raising awareness on the benefit and the potential of the sector is crucial to advocate for favourable legislation and eliminate roadblocks to the development of the sector, the report pointed out.
“We need to ease the processes that non-EU students must complete in order to attend programs in Spain,” Grasset said.
“In the past, these have included long and frustrating bureaucratic procedures which have encouraged many to seek other educational destinations,” she explained, adding that there is hope new legislation, passed in 2018, will eliminate several roadblocks.
Another change needed to attract international students, said Grasset, is an increase in the number of English-taught programs.
“Our ability to attract international students is restrained by the minimal percentage of educational degrees that can be completed without a prior command of Spanish,” she said, adding that full-degree international student numbers are still growing, and their contribution will be the object of a future report.
Using a variety of sources, the present report estimated the enrolment numbers and economic contribution of international students in four sectors of the Spanish education system: Erasmus (of which Spain is the top destination), language and culture schools, business schools and US study abroad programs.
The language school sector by far welcomed the largest number of students, a total of 472,150, with a total impact of 793,102,474.
Encarnación Gutierrez of FEDELE, the Spanish Federation of Associations of Schools of Spanish as a Foreign Language, told The PIE that numbers have been increasing steadily over the past few years and that the association is focusing on advocacy and promotion.
“We are organising meetings and working as a team with other institutions to obtain facilities in the dispatching of student’s visa and to recognise our academic offers as university credits,” she said, adding that FEDELE’s agent workshops have proven very popular, with the next event taking place on September 29.
But as impressive as they are, the figures concerning the language school sector could even be conservative estimates, according to CLIC deputy director Frederic Parrilla Garreau.
He explained the data only pertains to members of FEDELE and it excludes universities and private sector schools, which don’t belong to the association.
“I wouldn’t be surprised the total number of foreign students all in all is at least 10-15% more than this,” he said.
“The problem is that that Spanish has fewer students focused on their career or business”
Interest towards Spanish is undeniably growing, he explained, as evidenced by its increasing popularity over other languages – for example, it has overtaken French in the UK.
Its charm is in no small measure aided by Spain’s warm climate, tourist attractions and friendliness, Parrilla Garreau added, in a way that is not always entirely positive for the industry.
“Lots of people study Spanish by simpatia [interest] towards the country and its people. The problem is that that Spanish has fewer students focused on their career or business – and people more focused on business, jobs, salaries, for example, would tend to study another language such as German,” he explained.
“I think Spanish will keep on growing but it needs to recreate a more solid branding connected to business and work opportunity globally,” he pointed out, adding that more government regulation is needed to block rogue providers.