Forecasting is a precarious business, but how bright is the future for international education?

In 1964, the science fiction author and Boston University academic Isaac Asimov (pictured, right) imagined the world the world 50 years ahead (2014), in an article published in the New York Times. Surprisingly, he did quite well. He forecasted the advent of Skype and Face Time. He hinted at the wireless world and flat screen televisions. But he was wide of the mark on a range of other areas – that routine jobs would all but disappear; that we would live a life of enforced leisure.

In this blog, we round up some of the emerging trends from education commentators and add in a few of our own. And, despite the risks, there is one trend that we do not see being challenged – the increasing demand for high quality higher education and the capacity challenges faced by leading universities around the world.

Traditional education destinations will continue to dominate, but new players will gain ground

The United States is still the world’s most popular destination for international students. Open Doors’ excellent presentation provides a very useful snapshot of dynamics in student mobility. In the past year, Open Doors recorded one of the largest ever increases in international student enrolments at 7.2 per cent in the United States – while Canada showed growth of 11 per cent. There may be some evidence here that a visa regime which recognises the value and importance of international students is helping to make some destinations increasingly popular.

A recent study of Google search data by OC&C Strategy Consultants, suggests that young people across Asia still select the US and the UK as destinations of choice when choosing overseas study.

Amidst this, China has emerged as the world’s third largest destination, and has already made inroads into the hegemony of the traditional English Language speaking countries as the destination of choice for students from around the world.

Rise of Africa

Nowhere is this becoming more apparent than in sub-saharan Africa. Africa is on the rise. Most economic indicators suggest that Africa is growing very rapidly – a fact not lost on education commentators such as the EAIE. And with increasing Chinese investment across the continent, will we see ambitious young Africans looking towards less traditional destinations for their higher education? This article from a Kenyan newspaper seems to recognise the growing attractiveness of China to African students as a study destination.

North America to intensify recruitment efforts

The continued squeeze on public funding for higher education in the United States, the recognition that international students represent a much smaller proportion of enrolments than elsewhere throughout the OECD and the landmark decision of NACAC in the United States to recognise the critical role of education counsellors, all point to even greater efforts from US institutions to increase their international student numbers. In his excellent blog from December last year, David Stremba, INTO’s Managing Director in North America outlines in more detail the drivers and opportunities.

The future is blended – but what do international students think?

One theme which received more coverage in 2013 than any other in higher education was the march of the MOOCs and the ensuing debate over whether this does, indeed, represent a revolutionary shift in how higher education might be accessed and delivered in the years ahead. But what do international students think?

In October 2013, we conducted a survey of 1,600 international students newly arrived in the United Kingdom. We asked them whether they would consider taking their course online. The responses were interesting. Less than a quarter of students, when asked, would have considered taking their entire course online in their home country had that option been available to them. However, 70 per cent would have considered taking part of their course online.

The search for value in an era of declining public funding

Whether students traverse continents or log on to access their higher education, the search for value and the ability of established universities to meet soaring demand will continue to be major themes. In a blog post for University World News, Dr Rahul Choudaha of World Education Services suggests that 2014 will be remembered as the year when students will demand more evidence of the value of their education, while universities across the developed world struggle with increasing pressure on their budgets. Is this a circle that can be squared? And if so, how can one address the challenge?

Public-Private partnerships are vital

It seems to us at INTO, that there has never been a more important time to examine the role that the private sector can play in supporting the mission of the public and not for profit university sectors. What models can be developed to help universities meet the needs of a more demanding student population, while enhancing their own brand and reducing the burden on the public purse?

Looking at Asimov’s adopted country we can see the success of partnerships such as those between INTO and Oregon State University, the University of South Florida, Colorado State University and Marshall University. These all point towards a sustainable model which provides leading universities with global reach while growing enrolments and enhancing the quality of the student experience.

Universities are understandably cautious about developing shorter-term relationships which potentially threaten their brand or compromise the quality of their degrees. The governance based model whereby the university maintains full control over its academic provision certainly points to a future where the private sector and public universities increasingly collaborate to improve access to higher education, while providing the capital and resources required to deliver brand enhancing student experiences and outcomes.

Tim O'Brien

Author: Tim O'Brien

Tim is Vice President, Global Partner Development, INTO University Partnerships

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