Global outlooknow trendingOverseas-education | Lisa Kao 17 Sep 2019
Fifty years ago, there may have only been a few or no international students at a school. But after years of globalization, international students are now dominating a good percentage in schools across the globe.
These days, international officers are recruited to cater to the needs of international students, while many schools are participating in school fairs to attract foreign students.
"Fifty years ago, education was the government's job," said Svend Janssen, the head of Asia at Western Union Business Solutions.
"Universities in France only catered for the French. And traveling abroad was very expensive. Only a small percentage of the privileged could fly, stay somewhere else and study there."
He noted that the number of international students has increased exponentially.
"It was two million in 2000, but it has risen to more than five million today," he said.
Western Union has been managing international payments for more than 700 educational institutions in America, Asia, Australia and Europe for 10 years, providing services to eight out of 10 of the highest ranked universities in the 2019 Times Higher Education Global University Rankings.
Gathering the figures through the decade, the Western Union head is sharing his insights on international education, pointing out, for example, that mainland students make up a huge proportion of the three million increase in international students that the sector has seen in the past 20 years.
"The economic development in China is massive, creating a lot of middle-class people who can send their children abroad."
Instead of a sudden growth in numbers due to a certain event, the increase is a rather steady trend.
"These Chinese students are going to all parts," he said.
The United States and the UK, being English-speaking countries, have always occupied the top of the list for international students.
"With reputed educational institutes, they have long been the top two on the list."
However, the third place that is most popular for international students has changed from Germany in 2000 to China this year.
"Most of the international students who study in China are Americans," said Janssen.
"Japan and Korea are also increasing in popularity, but not Hong Kong and Singapore because of their limited capacity."
Although the United States and the UK are still occupying the top, they are losing international students every year. "Last year, there was a 3 percent drop in the number of international students in the United States."
Seeing that Asian universities are getting more popular for foreigners, Janssen said that their improving quality of education has attracted students.
"Especially in the past 20 to 30 years, the Chinese universities have dared to change, dared to develop, and are eager to compete," he said.
The Asian universities are also adding competitive programs. "I just signed a partnership with a management school in Singapore and they offer a program where students study in Mumbai, Dubai and Sydney for one year in each location," said Janssen.
In addition, students may work in foreign countries after graduation.
"I met a girl once and she already knew that she was guaranteed to be able to work in Australia after graduating from the school."
That is because the Singaporean school has signed an agreement with the Australian government to make it possible.
Despite tensions due to the Sino-American trade war, politics has not influenced academics.
"We haven't seen any changes in the number of international students yet," he said.
Janssen said political and economic problems not directly related to the academic side are unlikely to have an effect on students' desire to study abroad.
The number of international students has not been influenced by the trade war or financial crises.
"You cannot see it in the curve. Economics affects only a tiny part, which we might have to get a magnifying glass to see it."
He stressed that people today are still looking at the reputation of the institutions and the quality of the education, instead of the international political situation.
"The student traffic is less connected with these issues," he said.
Nevertheless, practical restrictions still impose changes in the direction of the international students.
"In the late 1980s, the Berlin Wall had fallen. The east and the west were able to merge together and it was an event bringing a lot more students to both sides," said Janssen.
Students from both sides were able to study freely as restrictions no longer existed.
Janssen said Brexit will be the same.
"Before Brexit, European students could study in Britain freely," he said.
"But I am expecting that Britain will be less attractive for them after Brexit, as the students from European Union countries may encounter problems on their time allowance for staying, visa requirements, and administrative requirements."