European graduate enrolment in US rises 8 per cent

But data show applications and enrolments from India and Saudi Arabia have plummeted

February 9, 2017
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The number of European graduate students enrolling at US universities rose by 8 per cent in the year to autumn 2016, the largest increase in at least the past five years, according to new data from the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS).

Enrolments from Europe had declined by 4 per cent between 2014 and 2015, and increased only by between 1 and 3 per cent the previous three years. CGS did not collect data on Europe before 2012.

However, first-time enrolments of graduate students from India and Saudi Arabia declined by 7 per cent and 13 per cent, respectively, between autumn 2015 and autumn 2016, while applications from these countries declined by 1 per cent and 20 per cent, respectively.

These big declines come despite healthy growth from both countries last year: applications from India rose by 10 per cent between 2014 and 2015 and by 33 per cent between 2013 and 2014, while enrolments expanded by 12 per cent and 27 per cent in those two years.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabian applications grew by 8 per cent between 2014 and 2015, while enrolments increased by 5 per cent.

CGS said that changes to the Saudi Arabian government’s scholarship policy were likely to have contributed to the sudden decline from that nation.

Saudi government funding allocated to support students studying abroad sank by 12 per cent between 2015 and 2016, and those who want to study outside the country with government aid now must be enrolled in one of the top 50 academic programmes for their field or at one of the top 100 universities in the world, according to Forbes.

Changes in total international graduate applications by region/country of origin

  Autumn 2012 to autumn 2013 Autumn 2013 to autumn 2014 Autumn 2014 to autumn 2015 Autumn 2015 to autumn 2016
Total 2% 10% 3% 1%
Asia     2% 2%
   China -3% -1% 0% 4%
   India 22% 33% 10% -1%
   South Korea -15% -5% 4% -5%
   Taiwan -13% 0% -1% 1%
Europe -2% 3% -5% 0%
Latin America and Caribbean     -1% -3%
   Brazil 25% 61% -13% -11%
   Mexico -8% 1% 9% 2%
Middle East and North Africa     2% -5%
   Saudi Arabia     8% -20%
Canada -5% 1% 3% -12%
Oceania     4% -11%
Sub-Saharan Africa      7% -9%

Source: 2016 CGS International Graduate Admissions Survey

Changes in first-time international graduate enrolment by region/country of origin

  Autumn 2012 to autumn 2013 Autumn 2013 to autumn 2014 Autumn 2014 to autumn 2015 Autumn 2015 to autumn 2016
Total 10% 8% 5% 5%
Asia     7% 8%
   China 5% -1% 12% 0%
   India 40% 27% 12% -7%
   South Korea -12% -7% 5% 10%
   Taiwan -8% -8% 2% 14%
Europe 3% 1% -4% 8%
Latin America and Caribbean     -6% 5%
   Brazil 17% 91% -30% -9%
   Mexico -2% 8% 6% 12%
Middle East and North Africa     1% -11%
   Saudi Arabia     5% -13%
Canada 3% -1% 1% -3%
Oceania     -9% 7%
Sub-Saharan Africa      9% 3%

Source: 2016 CGS International Graduate Admissions Survey

Despite India’s drop, the country is still home to the second highest number of international graduate applications (30 per cent) and first-time enrolments (27 per cent), behind China (38 per cent and 36 per cent, respectively).

Applications from China grew by 4 per cent, the first increase since the 19 per cent hike between 2011 and 2012, although enrolment stayed the same.

The annual International Graduate Admissions Survey, which has been conducted by CGS since 2004, found that between autumn 2015 and autumn 2016, overall international graduate application growth rates have slowed, but the rate of growth for first-time enrolment has remained the same.

Applications from prospective students grew by 1 per cent, compared with 3 per cent the previous year, while enrolments grew by 5 per cent.

When broken down by field of study, enrolments in engineering and health sciences courses declined by 3 per cent and 17 per cent, respectively; enrolments in business subjects grew by 8 per cent. But engineering was still the most popular subject, accounting for 26 per cent of enrolments.

The 395 higher education institutions in the US that completed the survey received more than 830,000 applications for graduate admissions from international students, which generated about 240,000 offers and 92,500 first-time enrolments during the autumn 2016 admission cycle.

The report states that about a quarter of the incoming students beginning in autumn 2016 came from countries other than the US, but “we may be reaching a point where we will see fewer surges of overall international graduate enrollment and observe more modest changes over time”.

CGS president Suzanne Ortega said while the continued increase in enrolments is “good news”, US universities “can’t take that position for granted”.

“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,” she said, citing Donald Trump’s recent executive order on immigration as a particular concern.

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