China set to overtake Europe on English-taught degrees

Number of English-medium degrees on offer outside traditional anglophone destinations increases by 48 per cent in five years

May 30, 2024
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Universities in non-anglophone countries are offering more English-taught programmes in a bid to attract international students and compete with traditional study destinations. 

The number of courses taught in English outside the “Big Four” anglophone destinations – the US, the UK, Australia and Canada – have tripled in the last 10 years, with significant growth since the pandemic, according to a new report from the British Council and Studyportals

Despite remaining the most popular destinations for international students looking to study in English, the Big Four’s global share of these courses has dropped from 82 per cent in 2021 to 78 per cent in 2024, as other regions expand their offerings. 

In particular, Studyportals predicts that much of the future growth of English-medium degrees will happen in Asia, with the Chinese region forecasted to overtake Europe in the overall number of programmes supplied by the end of the decade. 

Authors of the report say this indicates that other student destinations “are looking to become more competitive with developed destinations”, but also that more students are beginning “to consider studying closer to home”. 

“International students have more flexibility to decide where to study abroad according to their needs,” they write. “Students are no longer looking at options in a single country or city, but assess their options across numerous destinations, cities and even institutions.”

These trends have been exacerbated by policy changes in traditional anglophone destinations, with Australia, Canada and the UK all recently implementing new immigration rules that limit international student mobility. In the US, meanwhile, the upcoming election has “created an atmosphere of uncertainty regarding future policies”, according to the study. 

Similarly, while the number of English-medium courses offered in the European higher education area (EHEA), excluding the UK, has increased by 17 per cent over the last three years, this growth is expected to slow in western Europe. 

Some countries, including Denmark and the Netherlands, have already introduced policies restricting courses in English in an attempt to limit the number of international students entering. 

However, in March 2024 the Netherlands remained one of the leading countries within the EHEA for English-medium degrees in terms of the number on offer, along with Ireland and Germany. Other destinations that also have “significant portfolio sizes” include Turkey, France, Spain and Italy, which all offer more than 1,000 programmes each. 

“Although the sector faces a challenging period, often referred to as a ‘cold winter’, the expansion of [English-taught programmes] in various regions around the world offers new opportunities for growth, competition and portfolio development,” the report says. 

Edwin van Rest, co-founder and chief executive of Studyportals, said the surge outside traditional destinations “marks a significant shift in global education”. 

“As universities across the globe rapidly adopt English as a medium of instruction this means more symmetrical talent flows as traditional student origin countries also become more compelling study destinations,” he said.  

“This expansion provides students with more competitive and affordable opportunities, while also intensifying the competition for established institutions, particularly in light of stricter entry requirements and visa uncertainties.”

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