OECD: Colleges cash in on overseas students

November 1, 2002

David Jobbins looks at the UK's rise to the top of the OECD degree league

The overseas student market is big business for universities across the OECD. In 1998 alone, it accounted for up to $30 billion (£19. billion) or 3 per cent of OECD countries' total trade in services.

OECDanalysts say that the trend towards more freely circulating capital, goods and labour, coupled with more open labour markets has been accelerated by governments eager to broaden students' horizons and expand their understanding of languages, cultures and business methods.

Numerically, five countries alone (Australia, France, Germany, the UK and the US) host 70 per cent of foreign students studying in the OECD's 30 or so member countries, with Greece, Japan and Korea the most significant sources within the group.

When students from outside the OECD are included, Asian students (largely from China and Southeast Asia) represent the largest group (41 per cent of the total) followed by Europeans (33 per cent).

While 28 per cent head for the US, the numbers are a drop in the ocean against domestic enrolments. When overseas students are analysed as a proportion of home enrolments, a different picture emerges, with Switzerland ahead at 17 per cent, the UK fourth with 11 per cent, and the US trailing with less than 4 per cent.

The OECD says that there are indirect gains from being a net receiver of international students, principally the need for universities to offer quality programmes that continue to attract customers, thereby contributing to a "highly reactive, client-driven higher education". Countries with small populations can gain from economies of scale if they attract significant numbers from overseas, enabling them to diversify programmes and reduce unit costs.

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