Which are the new hotspots for international students?

  • university in South Korea
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Published on 2022-11-22 at 10:00 by Asaël Häzaq
Two major events disrupted international student mobility during the past years – Brexit and the Covid pandemic. However, international mobility has picked up again with border reopenings worldwide, and some countries are among the new favorites among students. Which are they, and how are they beneficial for international students?

International student mobility resumes 

Students are once again traveling the world to improve their knowledge and discover new cultures. According to the latest UNESCO study, 6 million students are enrolled in a university abroad. However, this figure dates from 2019, that is, before Brexit and the pandemic. Europe is becoming the leading destination for international students. Asia is popular too, thanks to China, but more especially South Korea, which is increasingly seducing international students. 

However, the global crisis has shaped the new contours of international student mobility. With Brexit, the United Kingdom, once ranked among the top host countries among international students, has been overtaken by Australia. The United States, Canada and Germany remain the most popular destinations with international students. Russia also used to be among these countries (5th host country in 2019), but the war in Ukraine weighs heavily on its popularity. Meanwhile, France maintains a good position behind the United States, Canada, Germany and Australia.

Favorite countries for international students 

The latest figures for international student mobility aren't out yet. But a new map is gradually taking shape, with a newcomer propelled by pop culture. South Korea has indeed made a remarkable entry among the favorite countries for international students and is well on its way to strengthening its new position.

  • South Korea

"Hallyu", the Korean wave, has taken the world by storm. More and more prominent in recent years, through music (K-pop, Korean pop), fashion (K-fashion), cinema and series (K-drama), comics (manhwa and webtoon), make-up or gastronomy, the "hallyu" phenomenon is, in fact, a governmental policy set up 30 years ago. Inspired by the American model, it is quite a simple strategy – it is all about making South Korea attractive through pop culture. And it works. South Korean stars are the first ambassadors of their country. And consequently, millions of fans worldwide are taking more and more interest in Korean culture and are enrolled in Korean language courses. Thousands of others have moved to South Korea for higher studies.

According to South Korea's Ministry of Education, more than 160,000 international students attended South Korean universities in 2019. This number has been steadily increasing since 2014, with a break in 2020, when only 153,695 international students enrolled in Korean universities marking a 4% decrease on April 1. But international students are gradually returning to South Korea as borders reopened. 

Among these students, there is a growing number of young Africans. While many of them continue to go to China (more than 81 000 in 2018, according to the Chinese Ministry of Education), they are now also turning to South Korea. In 2003, only 98 African students attended a South Korean university; in 2019, there were 2800. The main reasons are the international reputation of South Korean universities and the Korean miracle that competes directly with the Chinese giant and even the American dream. It took only a few decades for South Korea to become a world power. The "hallyu" has propelled the country to the status of "cool nation". South Korea's rise has only just begun.

  • Canada

Canada, a land of immigrants, needs no introduction. According to the Canadian National Statistics Office, the country welcomed 621,565 international students in 2021, including 450,000 new immigrants. This was a new record for Canada, which already has an excellent international reputation. Its open and positive immigration policy appeals to international students. While the term "American dream" seems to be the most famous, the "Canadian dream" is just as attractive. Anything seems possible in this country, which intends to welcome 500,000 new immigrants by 2025. International students know they have a good chance of finding work – the country is facing labor shortages and desperate for skilled workers. Studying in Canada is an added value to CVs. Canadian universities are known for the quality of their higher education and their flexibility. International students also appreciate the living environment, diversity and inclusiveness. Canada is home to over 250 ethnic origins with over 200 different languages spoken. This is both an opportunity and a challenge for the Trudeau government, which has recently been accused of being slow in processing international students' applications and discriminating against certain populations.

  • United States

Is the American giant out of breath? The world's leading power appears to be stalling, battered by the health crisis. The number of international students dropped from 1,075,496 in 2019-2020 to 914,095 in 2020-2021, representing a 15% decline. But the country of all possibilities is recovering quickly, propelled by the solid reputation of its universities and a dynamic labor market. It is especially attracting immigrants in innovative professions, including robotics, data, research, and finance. Consequently, thousands of international students are opting for the United States to boost their careers. By the fall of 2021, the Institute of International Education (IIE) predicted a 68% increase in the enrolment of new international students. The country, indeed, remains a top destination for international students.

  • Germany

According to the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the country welcomed 350,000 international students in 2021-2022, which is 8% more than the previous year (about 25,000 more students). This good figure can be explained in part by Germany's immigration strategy. The number of international students kept rising despite the Covid pandemic as many of them have decided to pursue their studies. The country has invested heavily in successfully promoting its doctorate programs and retaining its international student population. International students recognize the quality of teaching in German universities, the career prospects, and the living environment. Germany, one of the founding countries of the European Union, is a leading economic pillar. Its geographical position and economic influence also contribute to its good standing among international students.

  • France

Here is a country that seems to accumulate contradictions. Contrary to what current events might suggest (politicians are currently arguing about the government's new immigration bill), France remains popular with international students. In 2020-2021, 365,000 students chose to study here, barely 1% less than in the previous period. Unlike other major destinations for international students, France has held up well against the Covid pandemic. The country also highlights the quality of its education and its investments in innovation and cutting-edge technologies. Hubs and startups are weaving the new landscape, with Bordeaux dedicated to aeronautics, Lille to image, sound and innovation technologies, Clermont-Ferrand to biotechnologies and Grenoble, considered the French Silicon Valley, not to mention Paris and its many startups. Like Germany, the country relies on its geographical position in the heart of Europe, its rich history (it is one of the founders of the EU) and its heritage to attract international students.

  • Australia 

Australia is bouncing back. According to government statistics, the country welcomed 527,259 international students this year. This figure is down by 4% from last year, but it is still encouraging. Australia has come a long way. Its zero-Covid policy has halted international student mobility. Faced with the economic slump that caused a 40-billion dollar loss over one year, the government has set up new pathways, starting in August 2021, to allow international student mobility. This measure is accompanied by a plan to maintain the university sector along with the reimbursement of visa fees and the abolition of the working hours quota for international students who were limited to 40 hours per week. But student advocacy groups are sounding the alarm. Although the hours' quota will return in July, the government's flexibility on international students' working hours is more for the benefit of companies than for their welfare. Faced with an unprecedented shortage, Australia is relying on student labor. A little too much, according to the associations which believe that work can interfere with studies.