The world’s student population has always been a driving force for internationalization and greater global understanding. These are our brightest and most ambitious young people, who want to see the world and perhaps have a wider perspective on it than their parents’ generation. The ability to study abroad is a major factor in helping these young people broaden their minds, experience new cultures and make valuable connections in other countries.

Education without borders

There are many reasons why students may want to study abroad. Their course may require time spent in other cultures, or it may be that an education in the subject they are interested in is only available at the required level in certain countries. The upshot however is that the student economy is a global one, with the contributions students make going beyond any one nation’s borders.

This economy is currently threatened by rising student fees in many countries around the world. While the number of globally mobile students grew from 2.1m to 5.1m in 2000-2017, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, this international student body is increasingly made up of those from well-off families in the world’s richest nations.

High standards

At the same time, universities and colleges must become more competitive in order to attract international students. In the US, Bryant and Stratton College remains a leading destination for students from all over the world, attracted by its notable history and high academic reputation. While Bryant and Stratton College is seen as giving good value for money, other institutions around the globe are faring less well. Those that are unable or unwilling to offer relevant courses which meet the needs of students with a global range to choose from will inevitably suffer.

Financial barriers

While foreign travel is a luxury more easily available to those from relatively wealthy backgrounds, there’s little doubt that high student fees also act as a financial barrier. When countries that hadn’t previously charged a fee for higher education introduced such fees, international attendance almost always dropped dramatically. For example, Sweden experienced an 80% reduction in the number of international students coming to the country after fees were introduced in 2011.

In 2017, University Information Services reported that 76% of all globally mobile students studying for degrees came from high-income countries and 19% from upper-middle-income countries. Just 5% came from lower-middle-income and low-income countries. While this doesn’t threaten the sustainability of the global student economy as such, it does raise concerns about diversity and could lead to significant imbalances in the long term.

China and Russia are attracting more students from low-income countries in Africa and Asia due to the relatively affordable availability of higher education in those countries, as well as their growing reputation for providing a high standard of learning. In the long run this may mean even better-off students may turn away from the expensive universities of Europe and the US, especially those that do not adapt to meet the needs of an internationally mobile population.

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