University Rankings


More International Students at World’s Top-Ranked Universities

Date: Mar 30, 2016

Author: oiio

The mass expansion of international student mobility has been a major global trend over the last 30 years. And the latest data from the QS Intelligence Unit shows that the number of international students at the world’s top-ranked universities has again accelerated.

International enrolments at the top 400 universities in the QS World University Rankings® grew by 80,000 this year, to a total of 1.37 million. This represents an average of approximately 3,400 international students per institution, up from 3,225 in 2012 – an annual growth of 6.5%.

The trend is even more evident among the elite top 100 universities, where international student enrolments grew by 9% to an average of approximately 5,100 per institution.

Top-ranked universities likely to be more international

The correlation between universities’ ranking position and international student enrolments is evident across the full range of universities in the QS World University Rankings 2013/2014. So why do the world’s top- ranked universities tend to have higher proportions of international students?

Certainly, it makes sense that international students would choose to apply to universities with the strongest international reputations. And in turn, as universities become more internationally diverse, their international reputations also grow in strength. So it seems likely that a circular effect is at play.

The proportion of international students is itself one of the indicators used in compiling the QS World University Rankings – but it only accounts for 5% of a university’s overall score.

The latest trends in international student mobility

While the QS data-set doesn’t indicate where the students are coming from or what programs they are undertaking, it provides the most current view on student mobility at the institutional level globally.

Most student mobility data, such as Education at a Glance, IIE’s Open Doors, the British Council, and so on, tends to have a fairly long time-lag to publication. The QS data, which is current to within weeks or a few months rather than many months or years, offers a more current insight into global trends.

In an era where the international dimension is core business for all world-class universities, and the internationalization of research, teaching and community engagement is carefully considered in strategic planning processes, this makes it an important resource for all those with an interest in the sector.

Some of the most interesting trends revealed this year include:

UK: Rapid increase in international student enrolments

International student enrolments at the UK’s 45 top-400 universities increased 20% in 2013 to an average of 5,200. This is by far the highest growth rate among the major English-speaking recipient countries.

This rapid increase in international student enrolments may be the result of the emphasis English universities in particular have placed on international student recruitment in recent years, as a risk mitigation strategy surrounding the uncertainties associated with increases in domestic undergraduate tuition fees over the past decade.

Next year’s result will be keenly watched, as there have been concerns about the UK’s international student recruitment being negatively impacted by recent changes to student visa and post-study work rights policies.

North America: Slower growth at Canadian universities

Growth in international student enrolments among the leading US universities, at 7%, was about the global average, while growth at Canadian institutions in the top 400 was slightly slower at 5.5%.

However, the capacity for growth in Canada is not as great, as Canadian universities already have the highest average international student enrolments (5,950 in the top 400 and 9,770 in the top 100) among the major recipient countries. This is slightly ahead of Australia (7,567 in top 400 and 9,270 in top 100) and well ahead of the US (3,000 in top 400 and 3,900 in top 100).

Australia: Signs of recovery in international student recruitment

The downturn in international student recruitment in Australian tertiary education in recent years has been well documented. Contributing factors have included policy crackdowns to flush out bogus colleges and non-legitimate students, alongside a sharp rise in costs as the Australian dollar appreciated over the course of an extended positive economic cycle.

However, the QS data confirms that the higher education sector has been less impacted than the tertiary sector overall, with enrolments for Australian universities in the top 400 down 2.2% and the top 100 up 1% in 2013. With the pressure now coming off the dollar, and visa and migration reforms that favor international students in place, it is widely predicted that Australia is poised to continue to win back some of its market share.

Asia: Strong growth in China, slower in South Korea

The rise of Chinese universities in recent years in the QS World University Rankings and other international assessments has been mirrored by an increase in international students in China. This year the 10 Chinese institutions ranked in the top 400 have seen a 38% growth in international enrolments.

Many of the international students in China come from within the immediate region (eg. South Korea, Japan and Russia), but recently established US and European study abroad and exchange programs will also be contributing to the increase.

In contrast, the rankings success of the leading South Korean universities in recent years has not yet led to significant increases in international student enrolments. The leading group of South Korean institutions record international student growth by an aggregate 6%, from a small base.

The proportion of international students is one of the six indicators used to create the QS World University Rankings, alongside academic reputation, employer reputation, faculty/student ratio, research citations and proportion of international faculty.

This article is adapted from an original by John Molony for the QS World University Rankings 2013/2014 Supplement. 


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