Leading international student recruitment study destinations

International Education Recruitment: Global Landscape Cheat Sheet

With no shortage of changes within just the US international education sector, it can be a real job to keep up with developments across the global international education industry. We’ve compiled news on leading and emerging study destinations that we’ve been following through outlets like ICEF Monitor and The PIE News. If you could use a quick refresher on the global competition, see summaries below of the global international student recruitment landscape. To dig a bit deeper, find all source articles hyperlinked within the summaries below.

United Kingdom

The UK has been losing market share of international students since 2010 when it announced changes to its post-study work visa that had enabled international students to work up to two years after graduation. The changes made the path to staying in the UK to work much harder and enrollments, especially from India, have suffered for it. The UK’s Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data shows that first year Indian student enrollments at UK universities decreased nearly 60% between the 2010/2011 and 2016/2017 enrollment periods.

After years of more or less flat growth overall, things are beginning to turn around for the UK as the US starts to experience declines in international enrollments. For the year ending March 2018, the UK Home Office reported a 30% increase in long-term study visas issued to Indian students. We’ve been watching India especially closely on behalf of our university partners to see how demand is trending – in particular, what is, or isn’t, attracting students to study with our UK partner institutions. Across the board, we’ve seen huge increases in acceptances at our UK partners this cycle from students in India, especially for graduate programs that have work experience built in.

The UK has also benefited in the short-term from a weaker pound since the Brexit vote, which has made the UK a more financially attractive option for international students.

The UK may be on the rebound at the moment, but it’s still bracing for the impact that Brexit will have on its EU enrollments. EU students studying at English universities are guaranteed the same fees as UK students through 2019 but there is uncertainty beyond that point. Brexit coupled with an overarching immigration debate in the country is generating negative press for the UK in recruitment markets beyond the EU. Like in the US, the UK’s current political climate and immigration policies are going to make it challenging for the UK to retain its spot as the number two study destination.


China is now the fifth leading study destination in the world!

By 2020, China aims to host 500,000 international students and they are expected to hit this target. The Chinese Ministry of Education reported a total of 489,200 international student enrollments in 2017 driven mostly by students from South Korea, Thailand, Pakistan, the US, India, Russia, Japan, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, and Laos. Roughly half of these international student enrollments are for degree programs.

What’s driving this growth? The Chinese government has committed and invested in internationalizing its economy and increasing its world profile. Higher education is a key part of this. Specific investments include:

  • The Belt and Road Initiative – China’s trade and foreign investment program connects China with 65 countries primarily across Central and South Asia, South East Asia, the Gulf Countries, North Africa, and Europe. Relationships with these countries coupled with scholarships prioritized for students from these markets has driven significant growth in international student recruitment over the last couple of years. For example, the Belt and Road scholarships introduced in 2016 led to a spike in Pakistani student enrollments that moved the country’s position as China’s ninth top sending market in 2015 to fourth in 2016.
  • The Chinese higher education provision – The Chinese government has invested in improving the quality and reputation of its universities with the aim of creating 42 “world class”  universities by 2050. For the first time in 2016, a Chinese university reached the top 20 in the Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings. In this year’s rankings, China had six universities in total on the list, two in the top 20. On October 12, 2018, Times Higher Education announced that China usurped America’s position as the world’s largest producer of scientific research papers – ahead of schedule! While science and engineering have been a priority for investments so too has international education. The PIE News reported in August that the Chinese Ministry of Education announced a 16.08% increase in allocated budget for the education of international students.

All in all, China is proving its commitment to internationalization and is well on its way to becoming the international student recruitment powerhouse.


The Centre for Global Higher Education predicts that Australia will overtake the UK in 2019 as the second leading study destination. Australia has experienced consistent growth over the last ten years with an average annual enrollments growth rate of 4.4% per year. Australia’s Department of Education and Training’s most recent report (July 2018) shows an 11% growth in international student numbers since July 2017. Clear visa processes with work opportunities following graduation and international student enrollment growth targets set at the government level have put Australia in an enviable position when it comes to international student recruitment.

But Australia’s success isn’t without its challenges. Like the US, Australian universities are highly dependent on students from China and India. 30% of Australia’s international student population comes from China and 11% from India. What’s interesting is that universities at the individual level are either highly dependent on China or India, not both. Higher-ranked universities rely mostly on Chinese students and the lower-ranked universities rely on Indian students. Like other leading study destinations, the dependence on these two markets puts universities at risk. Relations between China and Australia have been rocky this year, which could influence students’ perceptions of Australia as the Chinese press questions the value and safety of studying in Australia.

Australian universities are proactively addressing the risk that comes with being dependent on just a couple key markets by working to diversify their international student recruitment activity – focusing on growth markets in Asia and Latin America like Vietnam, Nepal, Brazil, and Colombia.


Five years ahead of schedule, Canada has crushed its goal of hosting 450,000 international students. At the end of 2017, Canada reported a 20% year-on-year increase in international students. Canada has a lot going for it with its reputation as a safe and welcoming society and its favorable student visa policies with paths to work after graduation, permanent residency, and citizenship.

In our conversations with prospective international students, students who are attracted to Canada speak of the strong job opportunities there, but not only in the context of their own careers but in reference to their families. We’ve heard students prioritize Canada because they would like to follow family who have already moved there for the career opportunities.

Although Canada seems to be doing almost everything right to fuel major growth in international student enrollments, it’s not immune to diplomatic influences. The diplomatic feud between Saudi Arabia and Canada over the imprisonment of a Saudi activist meant 8,000 Saudi students studying in Canada via the King Abdullah Scholarship had to leave the country immediately as their scholarships were suspended.

Like Australia and the US, Canada’s international student recruitment success has been heavily tied to China and India. While Canada is primed to be more competitive in these markets than the US, it still carries risk. Data from a report by the Canadian Bureau for International Education seems to indicate that Canada may mitigate this with significant growth from Vietnam, Mexico, Brazil, Iran, and Bangladesh. These markets are still only a tiny portion of their overall international enrollments but the fact that they are growing these markets is promising for their long-term success.

What does this mean for international student recruitment in the US?

At any one time there are only a finite number of international students with the finances, ability, and desire to be mobile.

A country that grows its international student numbers will have to do so at the expense of another host country. In her AIEC 2017 presentation Do political events in host countries affect international education engagement?, Janet llieva, PhD discussed that the three leading host markets – US, UK, and Australia – never all grow at the same time. At least one leading study destination has to be in decline to create growth for the others. This year we are seeing international student numbers from South Asia decline in the US and increase in the UK. In previous years, Australia has benefited from the decline in international students going to the UK.

The US has fiercer competition than ever for international students. The good news is, every study destination has had its ups and downs over the years. There may be a rough road ahead for American colleges and a lot of factors you can’t control, but keep evaluating your strategies and investing in markets where students are mobile and the US will weather the storm.

Stay Ahead of the Times with UniQuest

At UniQuest, we consider international student recruitment from every angle to help you bolster your enrollment strategies for a successful recruitment season every year.  If you want to chat about what our data could mean for your college or university, don’t hesitate to reach out.