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OECD reveals STEM and PhD priorities of globally mobile

Around a quarter of all international enrolments were for doctorate level study in 2015, according to the latest Education at a Glance report from OECD. The report estimates the total number of internationally mobile students just short of five million.

The latest Education at a Glance report from OECD reveals STEM and PhD priorities of globally mobile studentsSTEM subjects are popular with globally mobile students. Such programs are featured in a promotional video for northern British Columbia. Photo: StudyNorthBC.ca

STEM subjects are overwhelmingly the most popular among international students

This number has remained steady over the last few years, with 4.6 million students estimated to be mobile in 2015, up from 4.4 million in 2011.

Meanwhile, 26% of international graduates studied at the doctorate level – the highest proportion, compared with 19% from a master’s program, and 7% from a bachelor’s.

And there are “distinct preferences when [international students] go to another country for the purpose of study,” said Andreas Schleicher, director for education and skills at OECD, presenting the report on a webinar.

Looking at the subject level, STEM subjects are overwhelmingly the most popular among international students, with around one-third of mobile students enrolling in this field.

The interest for STEM subjects however, is accentuated further when looking at doctoral level study.

A quarter of all international students studying in OECD countries at doctoral level are studying engineering, manufacturing and construction. Just under a third (28%) are studying natural sciences, mathematics and statistics research, while 6% are enrolled in ICT programs.

“The lower language proficiency required to perform in STEM could partly explain the internationalisation of these fields of study,” the report reads.

There is a wage premium and better career opportunities associated with graduating in these disciplines

“But of greater importance is probably the central role played by science, engineering and business management in innovation processes and value creation, and the wage premium and better career opportunities associated with graduating in these disciplines.”

In terms of destinations, countries such as New Zealand, the UK, Switzerland, Austria and Australia are noted for being the relatively most popular destinations, with a large number of inbound students compared to a smaller flow of outbound students.

Countries with a strong outbound mobility flow include the Slovak Republic, Lithuania, Estonia and Ireland, according to the report.

“In some countries like Slovak Republic, Lithuania, you can explain that by language,” said Schleicher.

“There’s also a difference in the regional balance,” he added. “Students from Asia tend to go to the US or the English-speaking world. In Europe you have a lot of in-Europe mobility.”

The number of those participating in cross-border online studies has hit 13 million

The report also points out that while the number of international students studying overseas at institutions sits at just under five million, the number of those participating in cross-border online studies has hit 13 million.

The potential for online learning is very significant, according to Andreas Schleicher, speaking on the webinar.

“Many adults consult open online resources for learning and it’s a great way for people to combine study and work,” he said. “It has huge potential, not sure all of the potential is realised.”

However, there are some aspects of online learning which need to be tackled before it can proliferate even more, said Schleicher, such as completion rates being quite low.

“We also need to become better in the credentialing,” he said. “When you actually study online it’s much harder to get kind of the recognition for learning as you get with institution learning, so there’s still many barriers we need to overcome to fully reap the potential of new technologies.”

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