MONTANA HIRSCHOWITZ remembers exactly when she decided she would seek her higher education abroad: one night when she was ten, and armed robbers broke in and terrorised her family in Johannesburg. Quang Nguyen dates his decision to no particular moment: he simply did not want to spend a big chunk of his classroom time on communist ideology, as is standard in his native Vietnam. Jehanne Aghzadi, from Morocco, had attended American schools all through her childhood; she wanted to continue her studies in English. Joy Lin was looking for a better course than she could find in China, with more social activities on campus and the chance to gain foreign work experience after graduating.
All four students ended up at the University of Miami in Florida, for reasons that varied as much as those that pushed them to leave home in the first place: good weather, highly regarded courses in subjects they liked, student aid and in one case a scholarship. But beyond the specifics, they are part of a mass trend. More university and college students than ever are studying outside their home countries. Foreigners now make up a sizeable share of students in some countries and courses—a quarter of all those in Australia, for example, and around a million of those on American campuses.
There are 4.5m international students globally, up from 2m in 2000, and that is expected to swell to 7m-8m by 2025, driven by population and income growth in developing countries where local provision is poor. Some places that have not traditionally hosted many foreign students are trying to grab market share. Japan has a goal of 300,000 foreign students by 2020, 60% more than now; Malaysia, of almost doubling numbers to 250,000 by 2025.
Foreign study took off in the 1980s, when several rich countries started to offer large numbers of scholarships as part of their aid programmes. Rising incomes in poorer countries added a financial motive. Universities in rich countries are often constrained by their governments in how many locals they can recruit and how much they can charge them. Foreigners, who can be charged more, help pad out budgets and subsidise local students. But not every country lucky enough to have lots of foreign students is doing what is needed to keep them coming.
Today Anglophone countries take the biggest share, since English is quite a useful language to acquire. France is popular with bits of its former empire and pupils from the French-language schools around the world that France’s government subsidises. Germany, which has started to offer postgraduate courses in English and has abolished all tuition fees, even for foreigners, also takes large numbers.
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