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OECD: Education at a Glance 2021

The OECD Directorate for Education and Skills has issued the Education at a Glance 2021 report to assist governments in building more effective and equitable education systems.  

While the report has a broad focus on various education-related themes, varying from early to adult education, we are hereby presenting a digest related to the flows of international students in OECD countries. 

The reported data cover the period between 2018 and 2019 and only capture the pre-pandemic trends, which have been severely disrupted in the last year and a half. Nevertheless, the conclusions still might be relevant for the relaunch of international mobilities in the post-pandemic context.  

Highlights on the international mobility flows are the following: 

  • International student mobility has been expanding quite consistently over the past 20 years. In 2019, 6.1 million tertiary students worldwide had crossed a border to study, more than twice the number in 2007. The number of international and foreign tertiary students grew on average by 5.5% per year between 1998 and 2019.
  • The largest flow of international students originates from developing countries: 67% of all international students in the OECD area come from developing countries. Of this, 3% are from low-income countries (LICs), 26% are from lower middle-income countries (LMICs) and 38% are from upper middle-income countries (UMICs).
  • Neighbour exchanges are especially strong in Austria, Colombia, Greece, Indonesia, Korea, Poland and the Slovak Republic, where more than 55% of internationally mobile students in 2019 came from the neighbouring countries.
  • Women are less likely than men to enrol abroad in the study programmes in the field of engineering, manufacturing and construction (29% vs 71% ) and more likely to study abroad in the fields of arts and humanities (62% vs 38%) as well as health and welfare (63% vs 37%).
  • Most countries are net “importers” of students; that is, they have more students coming into the country to study than those leaving for study abroad. In total across OECD countries in 2019, there were three international students for each national student studying abroad, but this ratio equals or exceeds ten in Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
  • At doctoral or equivalent level, international students represent 22% of enrolled students. The countries with the highest shares are Luxembourg, New Zealand, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, which all have 40% or more of their doctoral students coming from abroad. In Luxembourg and Switzerland, there are more international students in doctoral programmes than national students (87% and 56%, respectively). 

For full methodology and analysis of international mobility flows in higher education and other levels of education in OECD countries see the full report.