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Student mobility growth to drop 4% over ten years – British Council

International student mobility will likely slow down in the next ten years due to a mix of demographic shifts and increased domestic offerings, a new British Council research paper has found.

Tertiary enrolments globally will increase on average by 1.5% annually. Photo: paseidon/pixabay

But institutions should not only modify their source markets, but also their delivery modes

The latest in a series of studies offering a glimpse into the future of the international education industry, the British Council report crunched United Nation/UNESCO data from 56 higher education markets in collaboration with Oxford Economics.

It found that the annual growth for global outbound students is projected to average at 1.7 percent to 2027, dropping from 5.7 in the period 2000-2015.

This is mainly due to shrinking tertiary-aged populations and local investment in higher education.

The report warns that local investment in higher education is one of the major forces reshaping global mobility patterns – creating new destination countries that will challenge the traditional ones.

“Students’ definitions of quality have expanded to include costs and return on investment, employability and work rights, to name a few,” report author and research director for Education Intelligence, British Council Zainab Malik told The PIE News.

“Simultaneously, countries have been investing in local high-quality higher education provision, providing a diversity of choice for students and creating competition for traditional destinations,” Malik added.

“The attention given to these areas outside of direct student recruitment, such as TNE, must be considered strategic for institutions”

“Slowing growth in student mobility is a result of these developments.”

The majority of countries analysed are projected to experience growth in tertiary enrolments, especially Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Mauritius and Sri Lanka.

But while outbound mobility from China and India will continue growing – and account for 60% of global growth by 2027 – other countries will see a decline in outbound students.

These include countries such as South Korea, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore, which are in the top 10 source markets for traditional destination countries such as the US and the UK.

Beyond China and India, other countries will see an increase in outbound student numbers, including Pakistan, Nigeria and Bangladesh.

But institutions should not only modify their source markets, but also their delivery modes, the report warns – and invest in partnerships, transnational education and distance models for global engagement.

“This is mainly due to shrinking tertiary-aged population and local investment in higher education”

“Transnational education is one way institutions can engage, but there are many others: research collaborations, online learning, corporate partnerships, lifelong learning and foundation progams are just a few in a long list,” explained Malik.

“The attention given to these areas outside of direct student recruitment, such as TNE, must be considered strategic for institutions to expand their reach.”

This may be particularly important for UK institutions.

TNE is one of the strengths of the UK international education industry – there are currently more students studying a UK degree outside of the UK than international students studying for a degree within its borders, Malik told The PIE.

On the other hand, growth in international student numbers in the UK has been slower than the global average, the report warns.

“Global demand for learning in English language is high and it has, in fact, shifted patterns of mobility”

“The UK is at a disadvantage given its current visa policy and the emergence of diverse and attractive offers from new higher education destinations,” said Malik.

Among these new higher education destinations are countries in Europe and Asia offering English-medium degrees. These were identified as ‘challengers’ by a recent StudyPortals report.

Expansion of EMI is an important factor shaping international student mobility together with demographics and economics, Malik explained, but its future is not free of challenges.

“Global demand for learning in English language is high and it has, in fact, shifted patterns of mobility,” she told The PIE.

“However, challenges exist as faculty endeavour to teach and publish in a language other than their native language and digital technologies such as simultaneous translation threaten to reduce the strength of EMI as a major driver of student mobility.”

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