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Education at a glance 2016 – further growth in internationally-mobile students

On 15 September the OECD released the 2016 edition of one of its flagship publications – the Education at a Glance. Since 1992, this publication provides key data on various aspects of higher education, including on international student mobility, allowing for system-level comparisons. The datasets presented in the 2016 edition cover the 35 current OECD countries (which include 22 member states of the European Union) and 11 partner countries. Data for the indicator C4 – study abroad – refer to the academic year 2013/14.

Within the OECD, 6% of the students enrolled in tertiary education in the reference year were international students (defined in the majority of cases based on the students’ country of prior education), their total number representing a 5% increase compared to the previous year, with great fluctuations by host country. The number of incoming students increased by around 20% compared to 2012/13 in Belgium, Estonia, Latvia, New Zealand and Poland, while on the other hand Austria, Japan, Korea, Slovenia and Turkey experienced decreases in their total inflows. Time series analyses with earlier years are hindered by a significant change in the definition of internationally-mobile students for the 2012/13 data collection, giving priority to the country of prior education as the preferred proxy for capturing international student mobility.

Among countries for which data on international students are available, Luxembourg continues to show the highest relative presence of international students (of total enrolment). In Luxembourg, 44% of students enrolled in tertiary education have obtained their prior degree in another country. Similarly, international students represent 18% or more of total tertiary enrolments in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. At the other end of the spectrum, international students account for 2% or less of total tertiary enrolments in Chile, Poland and Spain and, among countries using the definition of international students based on country of citizenship, in Brazil, China, India, Korea and Turkey.

By level of study, international enrolments at the Bachelor’s level were rather low (5%) across the OECD countries, the proportion of international students increasing for the more advanced levels of education. Within the OECD countries, 12% of students in Master’s programmes or equivalent were international students, as were 27% of students at the doctoral level. In all reporting countries with the exception of Australia, Germany, Hungary, Poland and Lithuania, the largest proportion of international students was registered in doctoral or equivalent programmes.

In total, about 1.3 million international students were enrolled in Master’s and doctoral or equivalent programmes in OECD countries in 2013/14. Their main destinations were the United States (hosting 26% of the total), followed by the United Kingdom (15%), France (10%), Germany (10%) and Australia (8%). All in all though, the 22 EU member states within OECD hosted slightly more than half (53%) of the postgraduate level international students.

Regarding the origin (country of prior education) of international students studying in the OECD and partner countries, the students from Asia represent more than half (53%) of international students enrolled in OECD countries at the master’s and doctoral or equivalent levels. China is the country with the largest numbers of citizens enrolled abroad, followed by India and Germany.

In 2013/14, the in-out ratio for OECD countries continued to be 3:1. At the country level, the ratio varies greatly. In Australia, there are more than 20 international students for each Australian student abroad, while the ratio is less than half that in Chile, Estonia, Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico the Slovak Republic and, among countries with data on foreign students, in Argentina and Brazil.

The publication further provides information on enrolment of international and foreign students by study field, as well as an insight into some of the main factors impacting on students’ study choice – the language of instruction, quality of programmes and tuition fees.

OECD Education at a Glance 2016 SHARE