THE World University Rankings 2021: international student flows

THE data reveal countries with the highest average number of international students

September 2, 2020
A map with international students around it
Source: iStock

Browse the full results of the World University Rankings 2021

One of the biggest concerns about the Covid-19 pandemic and higher education has been how it will disrupt international student mobility, a part of the global university landscape that has grown in importance in the last 20 years.

Although it represents data from before the pandemic, this graph (see below) shows how large the flow of international students has become between some higher education systems.

The countries on the right are the top 10 for median international student score in the 2021 World University Rankings (for nations with at least 10 institutions in the ranking). Those on the left are the top five for the overall number of students studying abroad in 2017, based on Unesco data.

China is by far the most important source of incoming students for many of these systems, with almost three times as many coming from the country as the next nation, India. A large number of Chinese students go to the UK, Australia and Canada in particular.

India, too, is an important source for universities in the same countries, especially Australia, although numbers going from India to the UK have increased by several thousand since these figures were recorded.

Other Asian countries that are a major source of international flows include Vietnam, a large proportion of whose students also go to Australia, and South Korea, which is more evenly split among nations on the graph.

However, Asian countries are not always the main source of international students for nations whose universities attract a lot of students from outside their borders.

The fact that several European nations are on the list of host countries shows the importance of student mobility on the continent, with Germany being the biggest source of outbound learners. Their students make up many enrolments in the Netherlands, UK, Austria and Switzerland.

Student mobility can also be associated with quite specific cultural ties. Both Portugal and the Czech Republic are among those with high levels of international students at their ranked universities. However, their main source countries are Brazil (which shares a language with Portugal) and Slovakia (the other part of what was formerly Czechoslovakia).

Countries by average International student scores in World University Rankings 2021

World map showing countries by average International student scores in World University Rankings 2021

Number of outward bound students travelling to selected host countries

Graphic showing numbers of students travelling to selected host countries

Note: The numbers below the home countries are the number of students that go to the host countries on the right (rather than their global outbound total).

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