Written by Joanna Hughes

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has released its annual Education at a Glance report for 2018. The authoritative source on the state of global education, it offers a fresh look at international student numbers around the world. Here’s a closer look at key findings.

Mobility On the Rise

Not only has international exchange in higher education risen over the past two decades, but it has done so at a meteoric rate. Specifically, while there were two million international students at the tertiary level in 1998, the number has climbed to five million in 2016 -- a rise of 250 percent.

Driving the trend is an increased interest in both STEM studies and advanced degrees. For example, while international students comprised just six percent of total higher education enrollments in 2016, they made up 26 percent and 17 percent of enrollments at the PhD and master’s degree levels, respectively.

OECD director for education and skills Andreas Schleicher said in a webinar, “There has been a huge increase in internationalization due to more people having access and high enough income to have their children studying in other countries, and that trend is, pretty much, unabated.”

Countries which saw especially noteworthy increases in outward-bound mobility at the tertiary level include Hungary, India, Italy, Saudi Arabia and Spain.

Breaking Down the Numbers

In general, English-speaking countries continued to be popular destinations: More than half of international students chose the US, the UK, Australia and Canada. Other top receiving countries included France, Germany and Russia.

In terms of student proportions at the undergraduate level, Austria, New Zealand, and Luxembourg led with international students making up about 15 percent of total enrollments, compared to less than five percent for many other countries.

All of which begs the question: What are international students studying? STEM fields attract a full third of them, while the natural sciences, math, statistics, ICT, engineering, manufacturing and construction were also draws -- with significant benefits to host countries.

“Attracting mobile students, especially if they stay permanently, is a way to tap into a global pool of talent, compensate for weaker capacity at lower educational levels, support the development of innovation and production systems and, in many countries, to mitigate the impact of an aging population,” the report explains.

Learn more about studying abroad here.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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