Predicting where future international students will come from and what subjects they go abroad to study has become a mini-industry in receiving countries such as Britain and Australia, where some courses are highly dependent on overseas student fees.
Delegates and experts at the British Council’s Going Global conference, held in Hong Kong from 11-12 March, agreed that demand for overseas courses from Asian students will carry on rising.
“Overall demand for international education will continue to grow in the low single digits in the next decade,” said Tony Pollock (pictured), Chief Executive of IDP Education, an international student placement service.
However, subject choices may be changing as sending countries like China and India become more affluent, students from Singapore prefer to study at their own excellent universities and Malaysia reduces the number of government scholarships for students on expensive overseas courses.
Medicine and related courses in the West have long been popular with students from India, Malaysia and Hong Kong, while business-related degrees and engineering have been the top choice for students from China, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Students from Pakistan are looking for high quality courses in engineering and technology, and Indonesian students are looking at the natural sciences.
South Korean students, on the other hand, go abroad to study creative arts and design, while students from India and Malaysia are interested in social sciences and communications, said Mike Elms, Chief Executive of Hotcourses.
However, patterns are changing in key markets such as China, which last year sent 440,000 students to study abroad, overtaking India as the top sending country.
Prospective students from major Chinese cities may be broadening out the subjects they want to study abroad, according to research by the British Council – information which could also be important for decisions by a number newly emerging regional higher educational hubs on what courses to offer to attract international students.
The British Council’s Education Intelligence Unit research into prospective students’ intentions in the coming years found that there have been shifts in the most popular subjects chosen for study in the UK in the last two to three years.
Students from China are still most likely to study business administration and engineering and technology at overseas universities, but growth in the number of students selecting these subjects is slowing while students from China wanting to study mass communication and documentation, and creative arts and design, has shown much bigger growth.
“We were trying to capture the student decision-making process before the student embarks on a course,” said Janet Illieva, head of research at the British Council in Hong Kong. “For China we have seen decreased demand for engineering.”
“There has been a shift in demand towards non-traditional subjects in China at the city level,” she said. This was most evident in large cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. “We think this is because of the rise in the middle class in these cities. While in the medium-sized cities, there is definitely a rise in those who say they want to study engineering.”
For example, one in four prospective international students in the city of Shenyang want to pursue engineering. In Nanjing, Xi’an and Chengdu the rise was 17% to 18%, taking over where Beijing was a decade ago. These are also cities where there has been a rise in heavy industry and manufacturing, Illieva said.
Students from China saying they want to study mass communication has risen by 81% since 2008, a possible reflection of the burgeoning use of the internet. Prospective Chinese students wanting to study creative arts has risen by 54% during the same period, compared to 25% to 29% growth for business and engineering. Architecture, building and planning has seen 35% growth in interest from China in the last two years.
Mass communication has soared to become the third most popular choice for Chinese students wanting to study overseas, rising from 8th most popular in 2006-07. Creative arts has risen to fifth place behind social studies compared to ninth place in 2006-07.
The findings have implications for universities hoping to replace declining applications at home with students from overseas, particularly in science and engineering.
But Hotcourses’ Mike Elms said the key motivator for students looking for courses abroad is “to get a better education. They want a higher quality course than is available to them in their own (education) market,” he said.
University World News