As national economies become more
interconnected, governments and individuals are looking to higher education to broaden
students' horizons. It is through the pursuit of high level studies in countries other
than their own that students may expand their knowledge of other cultures and
languages, and to better equip themselves in an increasingly globalised labour market.
Some countries, particularly in the European Union, have established policies and
schemes that promote such mobility to foster intercultural contacts and help build
Students are classified as
“international” if they left their country of origin only for the purpose of study.
Students are classified as “foreign” when they are not citizens of the country where
they are enrolled. This includes some students who are permanent residents, albeit not
citizens, of the countries in which they are studying as young people from immigrant
families. Consequently, foreign graduation rates are not comparable with data on
international graduation rates and are therefore presented separately.
Data on international and foreign students refer
to the academic year 2008/2009, based on data collected on education statistics,
annually by the OECD. Additional data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics are
also included. Data on the impact of international students on tertiary graduation
rates are based on a special survey conducted by the OECD in December 2010.
Over the past three decades
(particularly since the late 1990s) the number of students enrolled outside their
country of citizenship has risen dramatically, a more than fourfold increase (from
0.8 million in 1975 to almost 3.7 million in 2009) that exceeds that for global
tertiary enrolment. This trend mirrors the globalisation of economies and
societies, universities' expanded capacity and a substantial increase in global
access to tertiary education .
Language as well as cultural considerations,
quality of programmes, geographic proximity and similarity of education systems
are determining factors driving student mobility. The destinations of
international students highlight the attractiveness of specific education systems,
whether because of their academic reputation or because of subsequent immigration
Foreign students enrolled in G20 countries
account for 83% of total foreign students, and students in the OECD area represent
77% of the total foreign students enrolled worldwide. European countries in the
OECD were the destination for 38% of foreign students in 2009 followed by North
American countries (23%). Despite the strong increase in absolute numbers, these
proportions have remained stable during the last decade. In the OECD area, the
number of foreign students in tertiary education is nearly three times as high as
the number of national citizens enrolled abroad. In the 21 European countries who
are OECD members there is a ratio of 2.6 foreign students per each citizen from an
European country studying abroad.
More than 9 out of 10 OECD students enrol in
another OECD country when pursuing tertiary studies outside their country of
citizenship. Students from other G20 countries not in OECD also prefer to study in
OECD countries, with 84% of them enroled in an OECD country. European citizens
from OECD countries are also mostly enrolled in another European country (72%),
while in North America a large majority of students are citizens of a country in a
Tertiary-type A programmes (largely
theory-based) are far more internationalised than tertiary-type B (shorter, and
vocationally oriented) programmes in most OECD. The large presence of
international students also has a significant impact on graduation rates in some
countries. When international students are excluded, Australia's first time
tertiary-type A graduation rate drops by 15 percentage points and New Zealand's
rate drops by 9 percentage points. This effect is also evident in second-degree
programmes, such as master's degrees, in Australia and the United Kingdom, where
graduation rates drop by 11 and 7 percentage points, respectively, when
international graduates are excluded.