US postgraduate courses lose foreign students for second year

Foreign applications down 4 per cent, enrolments drop 1 per cent in ‘troubling’ sign for graduate schools

February 7, 2019
US border wall

Applications and first-time enrolments by foreign students to postgraduate courses in North America have fallen for the second straight year, in a“troubling” shift, the institutions said.

The applications from prospective international students shrank 4 per cent, and first-time enrolments fell 1 per cent, said the Council of Graduate Schools, which represents some 500 universities, mostly in the US and Canada.

“This is the first time we’ve seen declines across two consecutive years,” said the CGS president, Suzanne Ortega. "And while we think it’s too soon to consider this a trend, it is troubling.”

The CGS said the overall declines on the graduate level were driven by a 6 per cent decrease in applications and a 2 per cent drop in first-time enrolment to master’s and certificate programmes, which account for three-quarters of international graduate enrolment. First-time international enrolment in doctoral programmes increased by 3 per cent, the CGS said.

China and India remain the largest suppliers of international graduate students at US institutions, though applications and first-time graduate enrolment of Indian students fell by 12 per cent and 2 per cent respectively in autumn 2018.

Applications to US graduate schools by students from Middle Eastern and North African countries in autumn 2018 were 14 per cent behind the previous year’s numbers, the CGS reported.

The CGS figures follow an earlier report on enrolment in the US at the undergraduate level, based on 2017-18 figures, that also showed a second straight year of decline. The number of first-time foreign students enrolling at US universities in autumn 2017 fell 7 per cent, after a 3 per cent drop the previous year, the Institute of International Education reported in November.

US higher education leaders have attributed such declines to a combination of increasing competition for international students from universities in other countries and hostile anti-immigrant rhetoric from the Trump administration.

President Trump continued that practice in his annual State of the Union address on 5 February, conflating legal and illegal attempts at immigration and warning of the associated dangers of widespread criminal activity.

Also, last week, US immigration enforcement officials arrested 130 foreigners on student visa charges, after the foreigners tried to enrol at a fake university that US officials created in Michigan and included on a government list of legitimate educational institutions. Nearly all of those arrested came from India.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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