International student numbers doubled in last 20 years, says OECD report

Oct 1, 2018    Source: Chelsea Dibble


The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) latest Education at a Glance report says the number of international students in higher-education programs worldwide has exploded in the past two decades, rising from two million in 1999 to five million seventeen years later.

The report examines education systems across 35 OECD countries and various partner countries. “Studying abroad is an opportunity to access quality education, acquire skills that may not be taught at home, and get closer to labour markets that offer higher returns on education,” cites the report.

Meanwhile, the report found that there were strong incentives to invest in later stages of education “because graduates at that level make a large contribution to R&D and innovation, and to addressing socio-economic challenges.”

Key highlights:

  • International students made up only six percent of total enrolment in tertiary education, but they become more mobile as they reach advanced levels of education with 26 percent enrolled in doctoral programs in 2016.
  • International students favour STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), with one-third of them enrolled in these fields in 2016.
  • Seventeen percent of international enrolment is at a Master’s level, where on average across the OECD there is more than one international student for every 10 students.
  • International enrolment in Bachelor degree programs remains relatively low in many countries, with exceptions including Austria, Luxembourg, and New Zealand where more than 15 percent of students at Bachelor’s level are international students.
  • Students from Asia formed the largest group of international students enrolled in OECD tertiary programs at all levels in 2016, with two-thirds converging towards Australia (15 percent), the UK (11 percent), and the US (38 percent).