The future of higher education internationalization has been a major topic in the past months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Where will traditional exporters of higher education services find their international students? How will these higher education services be provided? And how will traditional importers of higher education services react to the COVID-19 challenges and respond to innovation related to higher education internationalization?
Internationalization of higher education (post-COVID-19) is likely to bring about a hybrid (traditional and digital) or even a strong trend to develop digital-based programs further.
Before the pandemic, there was a geographical shift in international student mobility towards intra-regional mobility, students studying on offshore campuses or undertaking partial or full international programs in their home countries.
Although the latest UNESCO statistics show an increase in international tertiary student mobility from 4,495,697 to 5,571,402 during the 2014-18 period, roughly 50% (including 22.47% from South and West Asia) of this increase came from the Asia Pacific region.
The United States, United Kingdom, and Australia (traditional higher education exporters) hosted 33.81% (17.72%, 8.11%, and 7.97% respectively) of global international students.
Although China will still play a significant role in international student mobility in the coming years, the increasing number of international programs and branch campuses in China, along with its greying population, may reduce the number of its outbound international students in the coming decades.
With 375,055 and 49,900 outbound international students respectively (according to 2018 figures), India and Indonesia represent the second and fourth most populous countries globally and have a low ratio of outbound international students to population, improving socio-economic development and an English-speaking population.
Socio-economic, cultural and proximity issues have also brought about intra-regional student mobility, while the proliferation of international branch campuses, joint programs, and other similar schemes have reduced international student mobility in some countries.
In the current and post-COVID world, which comes with international mobility challenges and the move to digital learning, traditional (and even emerging) higher education exporters can look at population growth and socio-economic, diplomatic and cultural factors to locate potential international students.
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