More on Foreign Students

By David North on November 17, 2020

In an earlier posting, we noted that the new annual report of the Institute of International Education, "Open Doors", tells of a three-year-long decline in the number of foreign students in the U.S.

Are those students simply going to home-country institutions, rather than coming to the U.S.? That is not known and perhaps not knowable, but one thing is clear: International students are going to other English-speaking nations in rapidly increasing numbers at the same time that the flow to the U.S. is slowing.

Let's take Canada for example. In 2018, it had 572,415 foreign students, an increase of 16 percent from the prior year, and an increase of 73 percent since 2014.

Given that the number of such students in the U.S. (though definitions may differ) was 851,957 in the 2019/2020 academic year, and given that the U.S. population is about nine times that of Canada, the impact of foreign students on Canada, good, bad, or indifferent, is substantially more than the impact is here.

Then there is Australia, where the population is about two-thirds of that of Canada. In 2018, it showed an increase of 15 percent in foreign students from the prior year, but this trend has since reversed. There were 340,152 foreign student visas granted in the academic year 2019-2020. If the U.S. had the same proportion of foreign students that Australia has, we would have more than 11 million of them.

The United Kingdom's international student population increased by nearly 6 percent from 2017/2018 to 2018/2019. The total in the latter year was 485,645.

China and India are the biggest sources of foreign students for all four nations, but the percentages vary:

  China India
Canada 25.0% 30.2%
U.S.* 34.6% 18.0%
Australia 19.9% 16.3%
UK 24.8% 5.5%

* Includes both genuine foreign students and recent
alumni working in the Optional Practical Training program.

The relatively small cohort of Indians in UK schools suggests that while Indians like overseas English-speaking educational institutions, they prefer to study in the former British colonies, rather than in the imperial center.

Why Avoid America? What are the reasons for foreign students not coming to the U.S.? An American academic organization, polling its members, came up with these as the ranking answers:

Visa application process (Canada's is much faster): 87%
Social and political environment in the U.S.: 58%
Cost of tuition/fees at U.S. host institutions: 55%
Feeling unwelcome in the U.S.: 49%

Interestingly the one variable that is totally under the thumb of the federal government, the visa issuance process, was cited as a far more significant deterrent than all the others.

These data are from NAFSA, an organization that carries a name born of political correctness. Once upon a time it was the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers, but the word "foreign" fell out of fashion; so thinking in terms of the late Oscar Wilde and "the love that dare not speak its name", the organization simply converted its initials into its formal name.

A Look at the Global Picture of Foreign Students. I mentioned earlier the leading positions that China and India have taken as producers of foreign students for the U.S. and other nations. From time to time I have wondered to myself: Why are those two countries so far in front of all others in this category? Then I decided to look up the most populous nations of the world, and the answer jumps out — fully one-third of the world's entire population lives in one or the other of these two nations. The following is from the U.S. Census: Of a total world population of 7,699,235,660, the top 10 most populous countries (as of July 1, 2020) are:

1. China: 1,394,015,977
2. India: 1,326,093,247
3. United States: 329,877,505
4. Indonesia: 267,026,366
5. Pakistan: 233,500,636
6. Nigeria: 214,028,302
7. Brazil: 211,715,973
8. Bangladesh: 162,650,853
9. Russia: 141,722,205
10. Mexico: 128,649,565

A bit of demographic trivia: Nepal, a nation with a population of a little over 29 million, lodged between China and India, is picking up some of the habits of its big neighbors. It is the third largest supplier of foreign students to Australia.

The author is grateful to CIS intern Emma Cummins for her research assistance.