Overseas postgraduate applications and enrolment decline in US

Survey provides more evidence of fall in international student numbers post-Trump

January 31, 2018
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The number of prospective international students applying to and enrolling in US postgraduate programmes has declined for the first time in 13 years, figures show.

Applications from prospective overseas graduate students declined by 3 per cent between autumn 2016 and autumn 2017, while first-time enrolment of international graduate students dropped by 1 per cent, according to a survey by the Council of Graduate Schools.

It is the first time that the survey has registered declines for both applications and enrolment since autumn 2004.

The decline is primarily in master’s and certificate programmes, which saw a 4.8 per cent drop in applications and a 2.8 per cent decrease in enrolment. In contrast, first-time international enrolment in doctoral programmes grew by 1.8 per cent.

The report, International Graduate Applications and Enrollment: Fall 2017, which was based on a survey of 377 US institutions, cites recent changes in US immigration policy, including the travel ban, as a potential reason for the declines.

At the country level, applications from prospective students from nations in the Middle East and North Africa declined by 17 per cent, while enrolment of students from this region dropped by 5 per cent. This marks the second consecutive year of declines in applications and enrolment for this region.

Applications and enrolment from India also declined by 15 per cent and 13 per cent, respectively, in the year to autumn 2017. This is the first decline in applications from India since autumn 2012. But the country is still home to the second-largest share of international graduate applications, first-time enrolment and total international graduate enrolment, behind only China.

Meanwhile, applications from Europe grew by 18 per cent, but first-time enrolment of European students increased by only 1 per cent, down from 8 per cent in autumn 2016.

A report from the National Science Foundation recently found that the number of international students in the US fell by 2.2 per cent at undergraduate level and 5.5 per cent at postgraduate level from 2016 to 2017. The analysis was based on government-held student visa data and excluded students who are participating in a programme that allows them to stay and work in the US for up to three years after graduating.

Last year, a snapshot survey from the Institute of International Education found that the number of new international students enrolling in US universities declined by 7 per cent between autumn 2016 and autumn 2017.

Another study from the IIE found that almost half US universities had reported a decline in the proportion of international undergraduates accepting admissions offers, while there have also been reports of declines in applications from overseas students.

Suzanne Ortega, CGS president, said that while the declines in graduate applications and enrolment are “concerning”, application acceptance rates and admission yield rates are comparable with those of the previous year.

“This suggests that prospective international graduate students remain highly likely to accept offers of admission to US graduate schools. This may be due to increased efforts on the part of graduate schools and universities to assure international students that they will be welcomed and supported,” she said.


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