Foreign students choose Britain

May 19, 2000

The United Kingdom has emerged as one of the world's leading recruiters of students from overseas, competing most strongly with the United States and, increasingly, Australia.

The three countries share a common language, which is also the one that most students who intend to study abroad will already know.

English-speaking countries attract the greatest numbers of overseas students. More than half the total in the OECD study in the US, the UK, Canada and Australia.

Across all OECD countries there are about 1.3 million foreign students, of whom 43 per cent were from OECD countries and 58 per cent from the rest. Some 44 per cent are from Asia and 31 per cent are from Europe. Five countries - Australia, France, Germany, the UK and the US - attract eight out of ten overseas students in the OECD area.

Australia, Austria, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Germany and the UK have the largest proportions of overseas students relative to total enrolments. In these six countries, at least one university student in ten comes from another country.

But Germany's relatively high performance as a destination for overseas students is partly attributable to the large numbers of "domestic foreigners" - mainly children of the "guest workers" who, despite having grown up in Germany, are classified as foreign. A quarter of all foreign students in Germany have ethnic origins in Greece, Italy or Turkey.

Luxembourg is also a special case because only the first year of university-level education can be taken there, and the report warns that its data are not fully comparable with other OECD countries.

Greece, Japan and Korea are the OECD countries most heavily represented among students in other OECD states. Together with smaller proportions of students from Germany, Turkey, France and Italy, they comprise about 25 per cent of all foreign students and more than 50 per cent of students from other OECD countries.

The picture for outflows of students from OECD countries is obscured because data are kept only for other OECD countries. OECD countries with the highest proportions abroad are Austria, Greece, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland (4 per cent or more of enrolment in the sending country). The smallest proportions (less than 1 per cent) are from Australia, the Czech Republic, Mexico and the US.

The balance between incoming and outgoing students also varies widely. The number of students from abroad studying in the US is more than 120,000 higher than the number the US sends abroad, but smaller countries have much bigger imbalances relative to their size.

The net inflow in Austria, Switzerland and the UK is between 3 and 6 per cent, while the highest net outflows, roughly equivalent to more than 10 per cent of enrolments, are from Iceland and Ireland.

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