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Trends of international students studying abroad and their global impact

Innumerable students dream of studying abroad every year and one of the most pondered aspects of this is choosing the best study abroad destination. Given the current trends, many students are choosing non-traditional countries like New Zealand and France to pursue their higher education. That being said, top countries like the US, UK,  Australia, and Canada continue to be the gold standard for higher education. They attract the most number of international students to their countries. Let us look at the statistics of the top countries to understand the trends of how and why students are choosing a particular study abroad destination. 

According to a research report by Study Portals, authored by Dr. Rahul Choudaha EVP of Global Engagements and Research at Study portals, international students have contributed more than US$ 300 billion to the global economy. This economic impact is direct, indirect, and induced by over 5.1 million global students. Below is an image showcasing the top 6 countries with the most economic impact by international students. Together, these top 6 countries have enrolled almost half the world’s international students. 


Given its top-notch education system and world-class facilities, even the ongoing commotion could not dethrone the USA from being the number 1 country with the most economic impact by international students. This only proves that more number of international students still choose the USA to pursue their higher education dreams. This is not going to decline anytime soon, given the chances of more welcoming immigration laws


With $25.5 billion of economic impact, the UK stands second in the list. This is a surprise, given its decline in the number of international student enrollment due to extremely less Post-study work visa duration (4 months). It was reported that there was a loss of £8 billion in terms of export earnings from international students during 2013-17. 

In spite of the loss incurred, the UK has managed to remain second on this list. This only shows that international students are still interested in studying in the UK because of the quality education and research facilities it provides. That being said, in a recent turn of events, the UK government led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced the extension of post-study work visa to 2 years from 2020-2021. This will, in turn, boost the international student enrollment further, giving the USA a tough fight for the number 1 spot. 


With world-class universities and post-study work durations as long as 3-4 years, and tuition fees notably lower than the US and the UK it is obvious that international students are attracted to Australia, making it stand number 3 in terms of economic benefits. This economic impact, in turn, resulted in more number of jobs, higher wages and better standards of living. 

With over 6 decades of expertise in this field, which is built from the ground up, international education in Australia is now the 3rd largest export. 


According to UNESCO, France is the 4th most sought after International destination for higher education after the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia. The same reflects in the economic impact standings. This is mainly due to its no-to-low tuition fees, in addition to the world-class higher education system, post-study residence, and cultural diversity. 

In addition to the ongoing boost in economic impact from international students, France had established a new international education strategy, titled Bienvenue en France with a target to host 500,000 international students by 2027 with better funding and immigration laws.


Great research facilities, wide-ranging opportunities in STEM fields and zero / low cost of tuition fees, have all resulted in more number of international students choosing Germany to pursue their higher education. This resulted in its high economic impact, as well as reaching its goal of hosting 350,000 international students by the year 2020. Germany has achieved this feat well before the targeted year by accomplishing it in 2016-2017 itself. 

With more and more Indian students now choosing Germany, India rose to 2nd spot in the student source country list by contributing more than 6% of the total international student population. 


Canada might stand 6th in terms of economic revenue from international students in 2016, but it is set to rank better and attract more number of international students in the coming years. This will be mainly due to its affordable fee structure, welcoming immigration laws, and top-notch standard of living and education. 

An increasing number of Indian students are choosing Canada to pursue their study abroad dream. So much so that, Canada stands 3rd after the USA and Australia in terms of the Indian student population.  

While Indian and international students are contributing to other country's economies, it is important to note that this creates a ripple effect which leads to cross-border knowledge transfer and provides international exposure to students, an important quality in today's job market. It also results in acquiring multicultural experiences and long term international networks which can develop into economic relations among countries at a later point. 

International students mobility pattern

The report goes on to estimate that more than 51% of students will go on to pursue their higher education from outside their own country by 2030 than there were in 2015. The factors influencing this competition will be very intense and keep evolving. 

The top destinations for international students in terms of income groups are the USA, UK, Australia, France, and Germany. All these 5 countries are high-income groups with collectively recruiting 2.8 million international students. Though English speaking nations are most preferred for higher education by international students, the rise in English taught courses in non-English speaking countries like France and Germany have ranked them among the top. 

India is the second-largest contributor of international students and is in the lower-middle-income group. It sources almost 45% of its students to the USA, a higher income group. This is evident, given that not one of the Indian universities ranked among the top 300 in the recently released Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2020

Dr. Choudaha has conceptualized the last 20 years into three phases or waves of time periods and the events that took place which has resulted in the course of international student mobility. 

Wave 1: 2001-2008

This phase is shaped by terrorist events like 9/11, and agreements and meetings to ensure a higher quality of education standards among European countries. Because of this students started shifting from the US to other countries like Australia, Canada, and the UK. This became the inception for Asian countries like China and India in dominating other countries in the quest to access higher education from abroad and its benefits, which has continued to this day.

Wave 2: 2008-2016

This timeline experienced recession and its consequences while the USA took proactive measures to attract more international students by utilizing commission-based agents and other pathway programs. While countries like Australia and the UK, which have tightened their immigration laws due to the backlash from the public have started seeing a decline in international student enrollments. This put the USA on the top position and made it the educational hub for higher education. 

Wave 3: 2016-onwards

Unstable political environments and anti-immigrant laws are defining this period. While countries like the US and the UK are seeing a decline in international student enrollment, Canada and Australia have capitalized on it and ramped up their recruitment process. These two countries have seen enormous growth, especially in recruiting Indian students. While the economic trends in China have begun to flatline, India is set to become the dominant source country of international students in the years to come. 

The report goes on to display that in order to achieve growth in this wave, national policies should align with institutional strategies to provide value for money.  As the tuition fees are skyrocketing and job prospects are hitting rock bottom, expectations will increase on the value for money obtained from higher education. 

Countries with best post-study work rights

In order to get a hold of this conflict, countries like the USA, Canada, France, and the UK have started retaining former international students as a source of their future skilled immigrants. International students have become a capital resource to both governments and employers. In order to retain international students, countries have started providing more funding and longer post-study work permits. Below is a list of the top countries which are providing longer post-study work rights. 

Destination RankingsIn-Study WorkPost-Study Work(Years)Minimum Study(Years)
New ZealandYes1-31
United StatesYes1 (+2 for STEM students)1
United KingdomYes21

Surprisingly, New Zealand has one-upped Canada to be the number one destination in terms of post-study work rights.

Wave 3 will see countries vying with each other to provide gainful post-study work rights by breaking cost barriers to attract a number of international students and stay relevant in the international education forefront. 

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