OECD 1: US share of foreign students drops

The United States continues to be the top destination for international students seeking a university education, according to the latest report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). But America's market share fell significantly - by 4% - between 2000 and 2005.

Countries with the biggest gains included Australia, France, Japan and New Zealand, whose growth was singled out as the most impressive by the OECD. The UK saw its share drop, although by less than 1%.

"In relative terms there really are some very amazing examples," said Andreas Schleicher, head of indicators and analysis at the OECD.

"Take Australia which has actually made a profit out of higher education, while most countries are struggling to generate resources for tertiary education. And who would have thought Japan would attract so many foreign students because they only offer programmes in Japanese - yet they now have 5% of the market."

Overall, the market in international students continues to grow in OECD countries - but at a significantly higher rate outside the European Union. America continues to attract nearly twice as many international students as its nearest rival, Britain, which has a 12% share.

Third most popular is Germany with 10%, followed closely by France (9%), Australia (6%) and Japan (5%).

The fall in the US share is offset by a 5% overall increase in the number of students studying outside their own countries. This rose to more than 2.7 million in 2005, according to figures provided to the OECD by Unesco's Institute for Statistics.

This represents a four-fold increase worldwide in the past three decades, with a notable acceleration in the past 10 years. This mirrors the growing globalisation of economies and societies, the OECD report states.

Within the OECD, international students made up widely differing proportions of the national intake. Together, France, Germany, Britain and the United States take in more than half of all foreign students globally.

But Australia has the most internationalised campuses, with foreign students comprising more than 17% of all tertiary enrolments, edging out New Zealand (17%) and a step up from Britain, the third highest on 13.9%. All three countries have more than double the OECD average of 6.7%.

"Australia and New Zealand have really been smart; they have really invested in good provision and good quality programmes. They charge high fees but it is a commercially viable service," Schleicher said.

How long the big four countries can keep their stranglehold on the market will depend on a range of factors -- from student fees and living costs to the quality of education on offer and competition from rival or emerging systems.

The more active marketing policies of countries from the Asia-Pacific region, compared with the traditionally dominant US, may also be a key element. Other factors are the language of instruction and the rules on entry and being able to remain and work after securing a degree.

In some countries fees from international students have become a major source of income for universities, providing valuable funds but also making the institutions vulnerable if absolute numbers of international students fall.

British universities, for instance, rely on international students for 10% of their income. But more than one in four international students believe they offer poor or very poor value for money, according to a study by the UK's Higher Education Policy Institute.

This could contribute to a decline in numbers that could "seriously impact the finances of a great many universities," said the study's authors, Bahraim Bekhradnia, director, and Tom Sastry, former senior researcher at the institute.

But the findings were contradicted by another study released in the UK by the International Student Barometer. This indicated that British institutions scored higher in academic factors such as assessment and having good teachers than their rivals in other countries.

Schleicher said the OECD had no predictions on whether the expansion of university systems in Asia, particularly China and Malaysia, would detrimentally affect the market for international students in the current main destinations of France, Germany, the US and the UK.

"My personal guess is that improved access to tertiary education in China or India, combined with improved labour market prospects of tertiary graduates in these countries, will over time lead to a decline for demand in OECD countries," he said.

On the flip side of the coin in terms of absolute numbers, France, Germany, Japan and Korea provide the largest numbers of international students from OECD countries, while China and India supply the largest numbers from other economies.

Full Education at a Glance 2007 report on the OECD site

The OECD produces quantitative, internationally comparative indicators that are published in Education at a Glance, as well as briefing notes contrasting key findings from member countries with global trends among OECD countries in the areas of quantity and quality, equity, and resources and efficiency.
Education at a Glance briefing notes on the OECD site


It is not surprising that US share of foreign students has fallen due to several reasons which could be listed as follows.

1. Foreign students need safe environment where they would be assured of completing their studies without fear of wars and terrorism, which became a potential threat to human life around that time with Bush as president.

2. The tuition fees for most US universities are prohibitive to foreign students especially from Africa. These potential US students resort to other countries where tuition is cheaper.

3. Some universities put stringent entry requirements for international students which sometimes include obtaining a certificate of conduct from a previous school, sitting for an english test even when the student passed ordinary level school certificate english, and no finacial or loan support for international students especially from Africa.

It should always be born in mind that the world will never be safe to live in if backwardness is encouraged to take root by disadvantaging people who merely need an education.

Esau Mfune

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