‘Open Doors 2011’: World roundup



The Institute of International Education (IIE) OpenDoorsin New York released its annual ‘Open Doors’ report on student mobility to and from the US this week. It is funded by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The inward mobility data are for the academic year 2010-11 and study-abroad data are for 2009-10. The overall inward total was 723,000, a 4.7% increase over the previous year (and greater than the 3% recorded a year earlier). China and India accounted for 1/3 of the total, and the growth is almost entirely at the undergraduate and non-degree levels. What follows is a round-up of international news coverage and reaction.

Hong Kong

The South China Morning Post of Hong Kong reported yesterday that ‘Mainlanders top roll of foreign students in US’. The number of mainland Chinese students increased by 23% in total and 43% at undergraduate level. The paper noted that this is the second year running that China has overtaken India as the top country of origin for US higher education. The number of Chinese students rose to a total of nearly 158,000, or about 22% of the US international student population.

SCMP went on to quote acting Under-Secretary of State Ann Stock on the economic value of international education to the US. It referred to a report on the Xinhua news agency that the Obama administration would further accelerate granting student visas in order to attract more Chinese students, and to a State Department document that ‘pledged to shorten the maximum wait for a student visa appointment to 15 days and said foreign students could apply for their visas up to 120 days before their academic programmes begin’.

The paper said that US students still flock to Europe but that China was gaining popularity and came in fifth place (by hosting 14,000 study-abroad students in 2009-10). It also commented that New York University, in partnership with East China Normal University and local authorities, is establishing NYU Shanghai in Pudong. It will be the first university on the mainland not to use China\’s National College Entrance Examination for admissions.


In the Australian newspaper, Jeffrey Smart, a vice-president of Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, sent a warning that ‘US universities may struggle with the Chinese wave’. He noted that his American colleagues were talking of little else apart from the 30% increases in Chinese students on American campuses, and that the experience of nations that had seen rapid rises in enrolments in a short time had not always been positive. He referred to a substantial essay in the New York Times (co-authored by Karin Fischer at the Chronicle) in suggesting that growth of this magnitude was already causing some stresses, which he thought would be inevitable. Quite apart from the havoc caused to enrolment management in US universities, Smart wondered whether second-tier American cities were adequately equipped with Chinese cultural amenities. In the context of current unemployment rates, keeping pace with demands would prove difficult.

United Kingdom

Times Higher Education reported that the UK remains the top study destination for students from the US for study abroad (about 33,000 in 2009-10). If readers think that this refers to US students taking UK courses, they are wrong – Open Doors does not cover this, and study abroad refers only to American students on US programmes spending a semester or year abroad. Having said that, the UK is also the favoured destination for US students taking UK degrees. THE noted that the destinations with the biggest increases in study-abroad students were Israel (61%) and India (44%).

It also noticed that although the number of students going to the States had increased by 32% in 10 years, the proportion of international students to the whole student body had remained static over that time, at 3.5%. One can add that this is just over half the OECD average of 6%.

Iran and Saudi Arabia

Payvand Iran News reprinted the IIE press release, and noted on 15 November that the number of Iranian students studying in the US increased by 19% in 2010-11, to just over 5,600. This percentage increase was second only to Saudi Arabia, which sent 44% more students (almost 23,000). We have not yet seen speculation on the reasons.


The Tokyo-based online Mainichi Daily News reported yesterday that the number of Japanese at US universities had halved in 10 years. The 14% decrease in 2010-11, to 21,300 students, marked the sixth consecutive year of decline, it noted. (This decrease was almost matched in percentage terms by that of Kenya’s.) It bemoaned the fact that while the number of Japanese students in the US topped the rankings in the 1990s, it was now one-seventh the number from China. It said that ‘education experts’ attributed the sharp decrease in recent years to the ‘inward-looking attitude increasingly found among young Japanese’.


The Hindu reported the 1% drop in the number of Indian students in the US. It noted this was the first decline since 1998-99 but also that they still counted for 14% of the total. It said that ‘as expected’, most Indians opted for engineering courses (37%) followed by maths and computer sciences (20%) and MBAs (15%).

In an apparent breach of the 14 November embargo, the Telegraph of Calcutta reported the decline in numbers on 13 November. It quoted Veena Bhalla, deputy secretary of the Association of Indian Universities, as suggesting that the spread of transnational education (TNE) might be a factor: ‘One possible reason could be that some US universities are offering short-term courses through collaborations with Indian institutions in India. [Therefore] the number of students going to the US would have declined’. More stringent visa regulations and competition from Canada and Germany, with lower fees and quality on par with the US, were offered as further factors. Immigration fraud centring on the mainly online Tri-Valley University in California was also cited – 95% of its students were apparently from Andhra Pradesh and it was closed in January.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal’s Indian blog asked ‘Are Indian Students Shunning America?’ It noted the contrast with numbers from China and attributed it to ‘a rather basic problem: few in India can afford to study abroad’, while China’s faster-growing economy meant more could do so. This analysis seems inadequate because the trend is reversed when the UK is the destination: numbers from India are increasing there much more quickly than from China. When looking at it from the UK, you might be tempted to speculate that the distinct demographic trends are the explanation (the size of the 18-24 cohort from China is supposed to peak this year while no such decline is forecast for India). When both the US and UK are together considered as destinations, neither demography nor family disposable income work as explanations.


China.org.cn simply reran the IIE press release. But China Daily said yesterday that the report demonstrated the surge of interest by American students for studying in China, with nearly 14,000 of them in 2009-10 compared to fewer than 3,000 in 1999-2000. It quoted Peggy Blumenthal from the IIE as saying that both countries were making equal efforts at student mobility. Rajika Bhandari said that the numbers reflected China’s growing economic power and referred to the employability factor for those with study experience in China.

A US State Department deputy assistant secretary said political issues between the two countries should not affect the American effort to host or send international students abroad. Although the number of Chinese students coming in was 10 times that of US students going out, he felt that China should not be worried about its attraction.

The article went on to interview Chinese exchange students in the US, who remarked that an American education meant developing the ability for independent thinking and creativity. It noted that more than 40% of international students studied business management or engineering in 2010-11, the two most popular disciplines for Chinese students.


News.az noted on 15 November that the number of Azerbaijani students in the US had doubled in five years. The 440 in 2010-11 constituted an 8% increase over the previous year. This was attributed to the efforts of Education USA representatives in Azerbaijan and associated education information centres. A US embassy official was quoted as saying that ‘the US remains a preferred destination for students from Azerbaijan because of the quality and prestige associated with an American degree’.


Tuoitrenews.vn, the online publication of Tuoi Tre newspaper in Ho Chi Minh City, gave the numbers: Viet Nam is now the eighth-largest supplier of international students to the US – almost 15,000 in 2010-11, a 13.5% increase on the previous year.

It reported that ‘Vietnamese students are ambitious. They don\’t just want to study abroad, they want to attend top universities. But brains and a healthy bank balance are not enough in today\’s competitive world. Now, students have to know something about the establishment they apply to and the culture of the country’. It went on to discuss the role of the Yola Institute in meeting that demand through the provision of information on the SAT and TOEFL tests. The gist of the story was that as parents have become more informed about education in the US, students and parents have become more selective about the kind of school they want.

United States

On a similar note, US News and World Report weighed in with ‘What International Students Should Know Before Applying to US Colleges’. Its main tip was to have quite a lot of money, as it pointed out that 63% of international students at any degree level in 2010-11 relied primarily on personal or family funds for tuition. The article discussed scholarship and other funding options in some detail.

Almost all of the above sources reported on the financial contribution of international students in the US, as compiled in an annual NAFSA report, ‘The Economic Benefits of International Education to the United States for the 2010-2011 Academic Year: A Statistical Analysis’, which uses enrolment figures from Open Doors. The net figure for 2010-11 was about $20.2bn, of which some $14.3bn was from tuition and $13.2bn from living expenses. $7.7bn was contributed from public funds.