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Required reading: increasing numbers of international students

A table highlighting which universities have the highest percentage of international students could look very different in the next five years

  • Student life
  • Study abroad
Seeta Bhardwa's avatar

Seeta Bhardwa

Editor, THE Student
May 16 2018
international students


Today Times Higher Education Student has revealed the universities with the highest percentage of international students

The UK is the most represented country, with 72 universities. London is the most represented city, with 16 universities, showing no signs that the English capital is slowing down as one of the most popular study destinations for international students. 

However, Brexit has cast a shadow over the future of international students coming to the UK, particularly those from Europe. While the higher education sector in the UK has made it very clear that international students will continue to be welcome post-Brexit, there is a concern that international students won't want to come. Campaigns such as #WeAreInternational and #LondonisOpen are combatting this by shouting loud and clear that the value of international students has not been forgotten.

The University Partnerships Programme's sixth annual survey into the attitudes of UK students towards international students found that less than 10 per cent of the respondents (1,117) would see positive benefits in a reduction of international students. Some 4 per cent felt that they would benefit from fewer international students and a further 3 per cent reported that they would be pleased. It’s encouraging to see that it is such a small percentage of students that cannot see the benefit of a diverse student body. 

Looking solely at the financial benefits of international students, they contribute approximately £20.3 billion annually to the UK economy compared with the £2.3 billion it costs to host them. These figures  demonstrate how important international students are. 

International perspective: a Chinese student in New Zealand
International perspective: an Indian student in the UK
International perspective: a Zambian student in Australia
Why more students are choosing to study in China

Another country with a strong representation is the US, with 27 universities – its highest ranked university at number 19 (Carnegie Mellon University). The US is also in danger of losing out on international talent in the era of Trump and a backlash on immigration and internationalisation. According to data from the National Foundation for American Policy, the number of international students in America declined by 4 per cent between 2016 and 2017. 

However, similarly to the UK, some universities are putting a lot of energy and effort into recruiting international students. The University of Tulsa (=152 in the table) has an international strategy to educate “men and women of diverse backgrounds and cultures” and to “welcome the responsibility of citizenship and service in a changing world”. The university has made internationalisation an institutional priority. 

While destinations such as the UK and US are unfortunately seeing a decline in international students, other countries appear to be capitalising on this and are stepping up efforts to attract more students from overseas.

Australia is the next most represented country in the table, with 22 universities – and the number of international students heading to the country has significantly increased. Figures from the Australian Department of Education reveal that there has been a 12 per cent increase in the number of international students, with Chinese students making up a substantial amount. Other countries responsible for this upswing are India, Malaysia, Nepal and Vietnam. 

Some countries that aren't as well represented are reinforcing efforts that may see them make a stronger appearance in years to come. For example, a recent study (Academic Mobility: the 21st Century Silk Road) revealed that China will be teaching 500,000 international students by 2020. This could be achieved even sooner because of increased funding to attract international students, a deepening of relationships between other international universities and an increase in the number of Sino-foreign joint ventures. 

India has also committed to a new strategy to increase the number of international students from 47,000 to 200,000 in the next five years. This will be achieved through targeting 30 countries across South Asia, South Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the former Soviet republics. Eventually India hopes to attract 1 million foreign students to study in the country and these are the best universities in India. 

As more and more countries invest in strategies to attract more international students, this table could start to look very different in the next five years. Countries such as the US and UK may experience a decline in their numbers of international students, while China and India could see an influx in the number of students choosing to study there. Whichever way the flow of international student patterns runs, it is clear that there are financial, societal, economic and cultural benefits in encouraging students to study abroad. 

Required Reading is the regular blog from Times Higher Education student editor Seeta Bhardwa  

Read more: International student table 2018: top 200 universities 

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