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Top 10 of 2012 - Issue #9: International Student Mobility Rises, and Countries Seek to Capitalize

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Top 10 of 2012 - Issue #9: International Student Mobility Rises, and Countries Seek to Capitalize

Global student mobility is on the increase, to favorite and new destinations. (Photo courtesy of Monterey Institute of International Studies)

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More students crossed borders in 2012 than ever before — both literally and virtually, through online and distance learning. While some immigrant destination countries are moving to crack down on student visa fraud and tighten visa restrictions (see Issue #7: Governments Crack Down on Student Visa Fraud), other governments have been seeking to reap the economic benefits of enrolling international students — and sending their own students abroad to gain valuable life experiences.

"Global student mobility is on a seemingly unstoppable rise, with those seeking an overseas education targeting the leading universities," wrote John O'Leary, an academic adviser to the London-based consulting and research firm that produces the annual QS World Universities Rankings.

The European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students (ERASMUS), one of the flagship policies of the European Union, remains immensely popular, with 231,408 students having studied or trained in another European country during the 2010-11 academic year. The European Union's goal is to support 300,000 students by the end of the 2012-13 academic year.

Meanwhile, a number of countries have entered the student mobility game in a significant way. Among them are Brazil and Saudi Arabia, whose governments recently extended programs investing in scholarships for study abroad. Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah Scholarship Program, which pays annually for 125,000 Saudi students to undertake graduate and undergraduate studies abroad, has been extended to 2020. Created in 2005, the program was originally envisioned to have a five-year lifespan.

Brazil, through its Science Without Borders program unveiled in 2011, is aiming to send 100,000 Brazilian students to undergraduate institutions for one year of fully funded study in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM).

For growing middle-class populations in emerging economies — including the BRIC countries but also nations such as Mexico, Turkey, and Indonesia — an international education remains a highly desirable investment and one that has become much more financially accessible.

At the same time, Asia, a long-standing international student source, is now emerging as a destination for those seeking higher education, with Singapore, Korea, Malaysia, and Japan at the forefront of this trend. The number of international students in China has steadily increased in the past decade, even attracting a small but growing number of students from wealthy countries such as the United States (U.S. universities have reported increasing numbers of students studying abroad for credit in China and India). Five percent more international students studied in China and 12 percent more in India in 2010-11 than during the prior year, according to the 2012 Open Doors report from International Educational Exchange (IIE), which studies international student flows.

Australia, which increasingly sees its future oriented towards Asia, is using higher education as a tool of deeper engagement. More than 10,000 Australian students will receive grants to study in Asia under the recently announced $37 million AsiaBound grants program for study abroad. "The next generation of Australian leaders will need to be increasingly Asian-literate and these are skills best learnt by experiencing Asia first-hand," Australian Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs, and Workplace Relations Chris Evans said in November, as he signed a memorandum of understanding with Malaysia to deepen higher education ties between both countries.

The United States retains its status as the top destination for international students, rising 6 percent to a record high of 764,495 enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities during the 2011-12 academic year. The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that international students contribute more than $22.7 billion to the U.S. economy.

The recent surge in student mobility to the United States, powered largely by increases in students from China and Saudi Arabia, comes amid increases in the number of Americans studying in destinations beyond Europe, including Brazil, Costa Rica, and South Korea. Overall there was a 1 percent increase in Americans studying abroad, according to the 2012 Open Doors report.