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US: int’l graduate enrolment growth stabilising

First-time international enrolment growth at US universities held steady in 2016, up 5% for the second year in a row. However, the growth rate of international graduate applications is slowing as interest from key source markets drops, spurring the Council of Graduate Schools to warn universities to not take continuing growth for granted in the current policy environment.

Students on Johns Hopkins University campus“International students are and will continue to be a significant part of US graduate enrolment,” the CGS report says, but enrolments may not surge as they have in previous years. Photo: Wikicommons/Iracaz.

“The increase in enrolments is good news for US universities, but we can’t take that position for granted"

The figures in CGS’s International Graduate Applications and Enrollment: Fall 2016 report are a marked change from two admissions cycles ago, when international graduate enrolment drove much of the growth in first-time enrolment at US universities.

“We may see fewer surges of international graduate enrolment and observe more modest changes over time”

“International students are and will continue to be a significant part of US graduate enrolment,” the report says, but adds: “We may be reaching a point where we will see fewer surges of overall international graduate enrolment and observe more modest changes over time.”

Of the 92,500 international graduate students who enrolled in US universities for the first time in fall 2016, Chinese nationals accounted for the largest share (36%), followed by Indian students (27%). Overall, 77% of first-time international enrolments were from Asia.

Contributing to the growth, 2016 saw a turnaround in first-year enrolments from European graduate students, which rose 8% after several years of declining enrolment growth rates.

Australasian enrolments also saw healthy growth of 7%. However, first-time graduate enrolment of nationals from the Middle East & North Africa dropped by 11%, including a 13% fall from Saudi Arabia.

“The continued increase in enrolments is good news for US universities, but we can’t take that position for granted,” commented CGS president Suzanne Ortega.

“Universities in the US and around the world are waiting to see the potential impact of the uncertain policy environment on the mobility patterns of international graduate students.”

The CGS figures also revealed that growth in international graduate applications is slowing, adding to the uncertainty. The figure grew by just 1% in 2016 to 838,627, down from 3% in 2015.

Decreases in applications from key source markets – most notably Brazil, down 11%, and Saudi Arabia, down 20% – counterbalanced a 4% rise from China.

Other important markets that saw applications fall included India (-1%), the Middle East and North Africa (-5%) and South Korea (-5%).

CGS: Council of Graduate Studies international graduate enrolments and applications at US universities

In light of the findings, the report counsels that public policy must continue to be conducive to attracting graduate students and enable them to stay and work post-study.

“As a matter of public policy, we cannot afford to lose our standing and competitiveness to attract global talent to our graduate institutions,” the study warns.

In terms of subject distribution, engineering was the most popular field of study, accounting for 30% of applications and 26% of first-time enrolments. Mathematics and computer science followed, attracting 21% and 20% of applications and first-time enrolments respectively, followed by business, with 17% and 20%.

Master’s and certificate programmes were the biggest draw for international students, attracting just over two-thirds of total applications (68%) and nearly four-fifths (78%) of first-time enrolments.

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