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The Curious Case of the Disappearing International Students


The addition of international students to a university student body has always been seen as a great example of a win/win situation…in spite of this, the number of international students in universities has declined throughout the developing world.  

By Siavosh Moshiri

University hallway

Via jeffpearce, flickr

The addition of international students to a university student body has always been seen as a great example of a win/win situation. The student enrolling in the university receives a level of education that he/she would most likely not receive in his/her home country. They might learn a new language (or better their understanding of a language they already know). They might also develop new contacts in another part of the world.

The universities, on the other hand, get to charge higher tuition fees and build their reputations internationally. In spite of this, what always appeared to be a rather healthy relationship has recently turned sour as the number of international students in universities has declined throughout the developing world.


In the UK, The Guardian reports that the number of international students is expected to fall by 230 000 in the next five years. In Australian universities, the percentage of foreign students has declined to the lowest levels since the global financial crisis of 2008. USA Today also reports that while the overall number of international students has risen in America, the rate at which they are coming has severely plummeted.

The reason for these drops is twofold. Firstly, living expenses have increased in all countries that offer high class institutions; the financial crisis has caused the currency in many countries to rise substantially. Additionally, governments have toughened visa qualifications; for example, the English skill level expected of the applicant has increased. Governments are also now enforcing stricter rules regarding employment for foreign students, severely limiting work opportunities.

Government officials argue that such actions are needed to reinforce the idea of ‘integrity’ in the educational system. Certain universities have been criticized for offering relatively easy courses such as hairdressing to entice students from abroad. However, university officials argue that such plans will have both negative long term and short term effects on the economy.

[pullquote]…living expenses have increased in all countries that offer high class institutions…additionally, governments have toughened visa qualifications[/pullquote]

Since fewer students are enrolling, less money is coming in. To mitigate costs, many experts believe that universities shall cut staff – exacerbating the already problematic unemployment rate that many developed countries face. The problems only get worse in the long term since such layoffs will worsen the quality of teaching; it will mean fewer teachers for the same level of students.

Matthew McGowan, the National Assistant Secretary of the Australian National Tertiary Education Union, was quoted by the BBC as saying: “The quality of the graduates the universities are being asked to deliver to the economy will not be as robust as they once were.” If this prediction turn out to be true, one could imagine the governments of the developed world reversing their plan swiftly, as most are in no shape to handle such a blow to the economy.

ARB Team
Arbitrage Magazine
Business News with BITE.

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