The economic contribution of international students

by jguiver on 24/11/2011

The other day a reader of this blog tweeted that she was disappointed with the tone of one of my posts.  I don’t like disappointing anyone, so I thought a lot about what she’d written.  I think what she was getting at was that I suggested colleges & universities in the USA are looking to China as a ‘cash cow’ (please note: I dislike this term but use it here to illustrate a point), and I referred to a number of recent news articles which seemed to support my point.

With the release of IIE’s Open Doors report last week, it appears that colleges & universities in the USA have discovered China as a source of prospective students.  Of course, American institutions have been engaging in and recruiting in China for a long time, but the news articles that came out in response to the Open Doors report just made it seem as though every US HEI was jumping on that bandwagon.  And the fact that most Chinese students can pay their own way was certainly not lost in the news reports.  From The Chronicle of Higher Education, “The survey results… suggest that a sizable share of students from [China] can afford to pay all, or a substantial part, of their college costs….The survey suggests that colleges could stop giving financial assistance to many Chinese students without affecting their admissions rates.

I don’t think American colleges & universities view Chinese or any international students simply as sources of revenue.  Neither do I think higher education institutions in Britain or Australia or anywhere only view international students as ‘cash cows’, as someone recently suggested to me.  But I do think that the economic contribution of international students is an important factor in every university’s decision to recruit international students.  It cannot be ignored and it would a serious detriment to internationalization discussions to do so.  The truth is international students contribute to a university’s bottom line and they contribute to their host nation’s economy.  A student who chooses to study in another country does so because he or she wants to, and their economic contribution is a part of the whole system.

With education hubs on every continent and world-class universities spread across the globe, many nations are enjoying the economic contribution from overseas students; it’s not just universities in the USA pocketing Chinese students’ fees or institutions in the UK pulling in more students from India.  Nigerian students go to Malaysia to study, Sri Lankan students study in Singapore, students from Kazakhstan study at institutions in the Middle East.  Student mobility is global and nearly every nation wants to benefit from it.

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