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Open Doors: international market worth $22bn to US

Foreign enrolments at US universities grew 6% to 764,495 this year, according to the latest Open Doors report from the Institute of International Education, bringing an estimated $21.81 billion to the economy—up from $20.23 billion the previous year.

Undergrads outnumbered postgraduates for the first time, but non-degree programmes saw the biggest gain

It was driven by a big rise in interest from China and Saudi Arabia (up 23% and 50% respectively), as well as in English programmes as a route to university. The number of Americans studying abroad was also up.

“This year we broke records in three categories… Number one was international students coming to the US… Number two were US students studying abroad. And I think the key news is that the positive economic impact really continued to increase,” commented US assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural Affairs, Ann Stock.

“This year we broke records in three categories…”

Canvassing the around 3,000 US universities that recruit internationally, the report recorded another 23% jump in interest from China – America’s biggest source market – from 157,500 to 194,000, following a similar 23% rise the previous year. Numbers from India and South Korea fell slightly to 100,270 and 72,295.

These countries again accounted for 46% of all enrolments, but other markets are rising fast. Numbers from Saudi Arabia jumped 50% (from 22,700 to 34,100) thanks to the recently extended King Abdullah Scholarship Program. Iran, Venezuela and Vietnam also showed growth, although key markets Japan and Taiwan both fell by around 6%.

Regarding level of study, graduate numbers remained stable (300,430) while undergrads outnumbered them for the first time, climbing 6% to 309,340. However it was non-degree programmes that saw the biggest gain, up from 59,000 to 69,500 in line with a 20% increase in uptake of intensive English programs (IEPs) – considered a fast-growing recruitment channel for universities.

State by state California again welcomed most students followed by New York, although significant growth was seen in Pennsylvania, Florida and Indiana. Economic impact data released by NAFSA – combining estimated tuition and living expenses, minus tuition aid – shows students contributed $3.2 billion to Californian economy alone.

Enrolments from Saudi Arabia were up 50% thanks to the recently extended King Abdullah Scholarship Program

“One big misconception is that all foreign students are here on some US state funded scholarship, and our data has been suggesting for years that two thirds or more are here on their own personal resources,” Allan Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education (IIE), said.

“They are being funded by their families, and they are paying tuition but also contributing significantly to our local economies.”

Despite the growth international students still only constitute 4% of total US higher education enrolments, leaving room for considerable improvement. A 1% rise in Americans studying abroad (to a record 274,000) was also thought too low for the needs of America’s future workforce, although non-traditional destinations such as China are gaining in popularity.

Said Stock: “We absolutely have to redouble our efforts to encourage our universities to make study abroad a key reality for American students. It’s just that critical and imperative.”

Data for US universities that do not respond in the survey is estimated based on adjusting the enrolment figures from previous years.

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