International student cohort in US sees biggest growth in 35 years

Number edges close to 1 million, driven by rise from India and China

November 16, 2015
Female student buying cotton candy, Yale Summer School
Source: Alamy
A sweet introduction: Chinese make up the largest group of international students on US campuses, although the number from India has grown fastest

The number of international students in the US increased by 10 per cent in the space of 12 months, marking the highest rate of growth in 35 years.

Some 974,926 overseas students were at universities and colleges in the country in the 2014-15 academic year, 88,874 more than the previous year, with the largest cohort coming from China, according to the latest Open Doors report from the New York-based Institute of International Education (IIE).

The number of students from China grew by 11 per cent, to 304,040, a lower rate of growth than in prior years. The most significant rise came from India, with the number of students from the country climbing by 29.4 per cent to 132,888, the highest rate of growth for Indian students since the Open Doors project began in 1954-55.

Together, China and India accounted for 67 per cent of the increase in overseas students in 2014-15, and they now constitute nearly 45 per cent of total international student numbers in US higher education.

Rajika Bhandari, IIE’s deputy vice-president for research and evaluation, said that India’s growth has been primarily at the postgraduate level.

“We know that Indian students have always been very attracted to the availability of excellent research facilities on US campuses and also within the US industry,” she said.

“Indian students are also drawn to the US because of the very large Indian diaspora here. Indian Americans are one of the fastest-growing minority groups in the US.

“Another key factor at the Indian end is that students are finally beginning to recover from the steep devaluation of the rupee against the dollar. While the rupee remains weak, the fluctuations have stabilised to some extent, thereby allowing more Indian students to afford a US education.”

The number of Americans studying abroad also rose, by 5 per cent in 2013-14 to 304,467, the highest rate of growth since before the 2008 economic downturn.

However, Dr Bhandari said, this rate of growth needs to “double or even triple” because only about 10 per cent of undergraduates study abroad before graduating.

“If we were to continue at this current rate of 5 per cent, it would still take us 13 years to double the number of Americans studying abroad,” she said. The IIE’s Generation Study Abroad initiative aims to double the number of US students going abroad by 2020.

The leading destination for US students remains the UK, which hosted 13 per cent of all Americans who study abroad for credit at home institutions in the US. The number of US students in the UK rose by 6 per cent to 38,250 in 2013-14.

When asked whether the UK government’s policies on and attitudes towards immigration have affected the numbers, Dr Bhandari said: “We are not seeing that reflected in our data just yet. But more globally, certainly what we’re observing is the rate of growth in terms of the number of international students going to the UK seems to have plateaued a bit, if not declined.”

Top places of origin of international students in the US

  Country 2013-14 2014-15 % of total % change
1 China 274,439 304,040 31.2 10.8
2 India 102,673 132,888 13.6 29.4
3 South Korea 68,047 63,710 6.5 −6.4
4 Saudi Arabia 53,919 59,945 6.1 11.2
5 Canada 28,304 27,240 2.8 −3.8
6 Brazil 13,286 23,675 2.4 78.2
7 Taiwan 21,266 20,993 2.2 −1.3
8 Japan 19,334 19,064 2.0 −1.4
9 Vietnam 16,579 18,722 1.9 12.9
10 Mexico 14,779 17,052 1.7 15.4
11 Iran 10,194 11,338 1.2 11.2
12 United Kingdom 10,191 10,743 1.1 5.4
13 Turkey 10,821 10,724 1.1 −0.9
14 Germany 10,160 10,193 1.0 0.3
15 Nigeria 7,921 9,494 1.0 19.9
World total   886,052 974,926   10

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