Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Global Competition for Brains and Talent

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Global Competition for Brains and Talent

Article excerpt

Recent years have seen the emergence of an international market for higher education. It is likely that the number of international students worldwide may have reached 5.2 million in 2014, with these students responsible for expenditures for tuition, accommodation, and other living expenses of no less than $50 billion. Since 1970, the number of international students is estimated to have doubled every fifteen years, on average, and the pace may be accelerating because of the expanding pool of tertiary education graduates in emerging economies where more education suppliers are entering the market. (1) Experts predict that there will be at least 8 million international students by 2025, a larger group than the total population of Switzerland, Norway, or Ireland. (2) This article traces the growth of student migration to the Cold War period when it was driven largely by the competition between the Soviet bloc and the West for influence in the developing world, how it has since been transformed (and now is being driven mainly by competition for dominance in technological innovation and trade), and concludes with questions on what it means for the less-developed countries of origin.



There is a consensus that bright, young foreigners seeking higher education should be welcomed. Almost every Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member state has adopted student-friendly immigration policies, from shortening the time it takes to process student visa applications to allowing longer employment after receiving degrees. (3)

New countries are entering the education market, including Japan, China, Singapore, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, and India. At the 169th Session of the Japanese Diet in 2008, then-prime minister Yasuo Fukuda announced a "Plan for 300,000 Exchange Students," a program intended to make Japan more open to the world. (4) In the field of education, China is another

major education supplier. According to scholar Ronald Skeldon, there were already 238,000 foreign students in China in 2009, more than the corresponding figures in Australia or Canada. (5)

Europe attracts the highest number of foreign students, some 2.16 million in 2012, of which intra-European Union (EU) movements account for about 40 percent. (6) However, among individual countries, the United States is the largest destination, hosting some 819,000 international students in 2012. The other country in North America, Canada, hosts some 143,000 students.

The Chinese are the biggest contingent of new students enrolling in foreign schools and universities, from nearby Japan to far off England. (7) Accounting for 19.8 percent of all international students worldwide, the Chinese comprise the largest group enrolling in American, British, Japanese, and Korean universities in recent years. In Germany, they account for a bigger proportion of students than any of Germany's neighbors, and were only slightly less in number than the Turks. Asian students accounted for almost half of all international students in the OECD countries, while European students accounted for another 28 percent. (8)

The pool of potential international students has greatly expanded, thanks to the rising incomes and the growth of tertiary education systems in developing countries. In China, the central government adopted a "Great Leap Forward" policy in tertiary education in 1999; as a consequence, today no less than 33 million youth are enrolled in higher education institutions compared to a mere 7.4 million in 2000.9 In India, between 1990 and 2006, the number of institutions of higher learning tripled from 6,000 to 18,000, and enrollments more than doubled from 4.5 to 10.5 million. Indeed, between 1990 and 2006, the number of Indians who went abroad to study more than doubled. (10) Many who go abroad for study do so in pursuit of more advanced degrees after getting their first degrees at home. …

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