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Global outlook for international higher education improves

The thirst for cross-cultural experience is driving an increased interest in attending university abroad

Posted by Julian Owen | December 11, 2017 | International

According to new figures released from Higher and Higher, HSBC’s latest report in The Value of Education series, the globalisation of higher education shows no sign of stalling. The study of over 8,000 parents across 15 countries and territories found that more than two-fifths (42%) would consider sending their child to university abroad, compared to 35% in 2016 – a seven percentage point (pp) increase. 

Asian countries are among the most outward looking, claiming four of the top five countries where parents are considering a university education abroad for their child: India (62%, +15pp); Indonesia (61%, +1pp); China (59%, +15pp); and Hong Kong (52%, -2pp). Even countries among the least likely such as Egypt (+26pp), USA (+14pp), France (+9pp), Canada (+6pp) and Australia (+1pp), see an uplift in the number of parents considering higher education abroad.

This echoes OECD data highlighting Asian students accounting for 53% of all students studying abroad worldwide. According to HSBC’s partner, the Institute of International Education (IIE), China is the leading country of origin for international higher education students, sending an estimated 801,000 abroad, with India (182,000) and Malaysia (64,000) also exporting significant numbers. 

More generally, student mobility continues to climb with 4.6 million higher education students studying abroad in 2017 compared with 2.1 million in 2001. 

"Parents’ willingness to spend on international education brings huge potential benefits to the host economies." 

Top destinations for university abroad

Parents see the main benefits of a university education abroad as being to help their child gain international work experience (49%), develop foreign language skills (49%) and to be exposed to new experiences, ideas and cultures (48%). 

Overall, the USA (47%) is the most favoured destination by parents, ahead of Australia (40%), the UK (39%), Canada (25%) and Germany (23%). While parents who preferred the USA believe it is a good destination for job prospects for graduates (86%), those choosing the UK perceive it as offering high quality universities and colleges (94%) and parents picking Canada think it offers a high quality of life for students (83%). 

The IIE estimates that in 2016/2017, the USA attracted around 1,079,000 international higher education students, the UK around 501,000, China 443,000, Australia 328,000 and France 324,000.

In addition, around two-fifths of parents (39%) have specific universities abroad in mind, attracted mainly by the quality of teaching on offer, their prestige and their ability to open up new job opportunities for their child. 

Commenting on the USA’s ranking, Rajika Bhandari, Head of Research, Policy and Practice, IIE, said: “With an intake of over one million, the USA has a strong track record of attracting international students who recognise that a higher education received there is a valuable personal and professional investment. They particularly appreciate the importance of critical thinking, as well as the broad range of available resources and the wide variety activities beyond the academic offered by America’s more than 4,000 higher education institutions. Additionally, specific programmes are offered to international students so they can gain work experience and ultimately develop their employability skills.” 

"Asian countries are among the most outward looking, claiming four of the top five countries where parents are considering a university education abroad for their child."

Cost and value of international education

The majority of parents (73%) considering university abroad for their child expect to make a significant financial contribution, and estimate the overall average cost of an undergraduate and postgraduate degree abroad to be USD157,782 (USD71,580 for undergraduate and USD86,202 for postgraduate). Many parents (45%) would go further and consider buying a property in the country where their child is studying.  

Parents’ willingness to spend on international education brings huge potential benefits to the host economies. Research from the IIE shows that international higher education students contributed USD39.4 billion to the economy in the USA in 2016, making it the fifth largest service sector export. 

Trista Sun, HSBC’s Global Head of International and Cross Border, said: “HSBC’s report shows that the number of parents, especially in Asia and UAE, who are ready to invest in an overseas university education for their child’s skills and employability continues to grow. With an undergraduate’s total cost expected to be around USD72,000 on average, the investment is financially significant for parents. Additionally, 45% would consider buying a property in their child’s country of study. Parents need to plan ahead and look at all the implications of funding international education. 

“With 39% of parents having specific universities abroad in mind for their child, their investment goes beyond financial. They spend a lot of time and energy to help their child build their academic profile and other credentials in order for them to meet the entry requirements at prestigious universities.”

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