ApplyBoard Announces New Solutions

A Future of Opportunity

Top Trends in International Education
for 2022 and Beyond

Few sectors felt the impact of the pandemic more than international education. Emergency border closures, shifting government policies, and global economic volatility forced the industry to adapt on a near-weekly basis while keeping students informed. As the pandemic has waned and vaccination rates have increased, the sector is now looking toward recovery, future growth, and the new realities that COVID-19 has created.

Play Video

The next two years will define immediate post-pandemic recovery, but pre-pandemic trends and long-term population and economic projections will guide institutional planning over the next decade. The ecosystem of international education will not look the same in 2030 as it does in 2021, and it will certainly differ from the norms of 2019. Now is a critical time for institutions, recruitment professionals, and governments to take a hard look at what their goals are for the next 10 years and how COVID-19 has reshaped their pre-pandemic plans.

This report is intended to help with that critical work. Here, we outline the key trends that are shaping international education in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. We bring together government data, industry reports, and ApplyBoard modelling to provide insight into major factors driving post-pandemic recovery in the sector. To help shape future recruitment plans and long-term growth strategies, we dive deep into top emerging markets for international recruitment in the next 10 years. We also take a look at international education trends that may emerge in 2030 and beyond.

The Next “Wave” Will Be International Students Studying Abroad

2019 was a banner year for international education. And despite initial fears that the pandemic would cause a catastrophic decline in international student numbers worldwide, the sector proved more resilient than expected. Throughout the pandemic, international student enrollment only declined by around 20% across Canada, the UK, the US, and Australia.1

  1. Institute of International Education (IIE), International Student Mobility Flows and COVID-19 Realities. July 29, 2021.

And yet, we’ve seen many prospective international students put their plans on hold. Some delayed their decisions until vaccine rollouts and policies were established in their intended destination, while others postponed their journeys due to border closures and visa delays. All in all, more than half of prospective international students surveyed in 2021 stated that they deferred their studies as a result of the pandemic.2

  1. Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), International Student Survey 2021. September 13, 2021.

Strong Industry Recovery in 2021–2022

But as border restrictions ease worldwide and schools announce vaccine plans and mandates, international students are once again on the move. For Canada alone, around 175,000 student visas3 were issued in the first six months of 2021, doubling the total issued in all of 2020.4

  1. The terms student visa and study permit are generally used interchangeably for Canadian international students. Rather than student visas, Canada provides accepted international students with study permits, which allow those students to enroll in classes at Canadian institutions. When a student is approved for a study permit, they are also usually provided with a visitor visa, which allows that student to enter Canada for their studies.
  1. Canadian study permit data provided courtesy of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), except where noted.

Here at ApplyBoard, student application volumes are booming. From March to October 2021, UK applications rose by more than 300%, Canadian applications grew by over 200%, and US applications spiked by 750% compared to the same period in 2020. Applications for programs in 2022 have significantly surpassed 2020 totals, as well.

The good news doesn’t end there: the sector has also seen a rebound in visa approval rates compared to 2020. Canadian visa approval rates rose by 15 percentage points in the first half of 2021. ApplyBoard students applying for programs in all our destination markets, including the US and the UK, have experienced a marked increase in visa acceptance rates.

Over the course of 2021, ApplyBoard has seen more students searching for study abroad programs than ever before, and program deferrals have fallen significantly. It’s clear that international students are eager to travel and study, and we’ve observed a healthy spike in new students enrolled for Fall 2021 and Winter 2022 across destination markets.

Students More Willing to Consider Alternative Destinations

However, students may not be travelling to their originally intended destination. The pandemic has had a major impact on student opinions of major study abroad destinations. More than ever before, students are willing to consider multiple options and are ready to change their plans based on vaccine policies, travel restrictions, and the availability of in-person classes.

UK border policies have shifted throughout the pandemic,5 but Canada began easing restrictions for international students in October 2020.6 The US followed suit in August 2021,7 while Australia will begin reopening its borders on December 1.8

Nearly 60% of prospective international students considering Canada, the US, the UK, or Australia reported that they had reconsidered where to study based on how different governments handled the pandemic.9 And in another recent survey, more than one-third of international student respondents said they would consider changing study abroad destinations if face-to-face instruction was available.10

  1. Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), International Student Survey 2021. September 13, 2021.

What are students hoping to study, either online or in-person? In 2020, over 40% of users on the ApplyBoard Platform searched for business, management, and economics programs. However, this program category accounted for just 30% of all searches in the first 10 months of 2021. By comparison, we saw a marked increase in searches for applied and general science programs (+5%) and health science programs (+4%). Worldwide demand for healthcare workers and health-based technologies spiked during the pandemic, and it’s no surprise that students are responding to this demand as they look to secure a stable career.

For more on student search trends on the ApplyBoard Platform, read the ApplyBoard data blog, ApplyInsights.

Tuition Costs Driving Student Decisions

Even so, it’s not just vaccine plans and program offerings that are guiding where students hope to study. Students are increasingly concerned about cost of living and tuition fees. Prospective students cite financial concerns as their top consideration for all destination markets,11 and study abroad scholarships may not be enough to influence a student who also needs to manage rent, food, and transportation costs.

  1. Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), International Student Survey 2021. September 13, 2021.

Before the pandemic, the majority of students searching for a study abroad program on the ApplyBoard Platform opted to view programs with tuition fees up to C$100,000. But in 2020, we saw a significant increase in the number of students searching for programs with tuition costs of less than $50,000. While we expected this trend to stabilize in 2021, it didn’t. During the first 10 months of 2021, more than half of all students elected to view only programs with tuition fees of $30,000 or less per year. This clear trend shows that many international students are unwilling or unable to afford high tuition fees. As a result, students are more likely to investigate programs and institutions they may not have considered pre-pandemic.

Post-Graduation Work Opportunities Are Critical for International Students

For many students, studying abroad is only one (critical) step in a larger immigration journey. Post-graduation work opportunities have thus become a key driver for international student mobility. In all four major English-language destination markets, over 50% of students look to stay and work in the country, at least temporarily, after graduation.12

  1. Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), International Student Survey 2021. September 13, 2021.

Canada’s Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP) is a perfect case study.13 The PGWPP has become a major draw for international students. From 2016 to 2020, the number of PGWPs issued increased by 124%,14 rising from just over 50,000 in 2016 to nearly 125,000 in 2020. Interest in the PGWP is wide-ranging. At least 100 graduates from 57 different source markets were issued PGWPs in 2020.

  1. For more information on Canada’s PGWPP, please visit the Government of Canada website.
  1. We covered the rise in PGWPs issued in Canada in an ApplyInsights article earlier this year.

My first choice is to study at a university in Canada, because finding a job after I graduate is my number one priority. I want to go to school in a place with a strong economy, large job market, and an enjoyable standard of living that’s not too expensive. Canada checks those boxes for me!

— Toyosi O., Nigerian International Student

Hoping to attract more highly-skilled immigrants, as Canada has done, the UK has established the Graduate Immigration Route (GIR).15 We’ve already seen substantial student interest in the GIR, and the UK government hopes it will help attract 600,000 international students to UK institutions by 2030.16

  1. For more information on the GIR, please visit the UK government’s website.
  1. Jack Grove, “‘Joined-up government’ key to UK international education goals.” Times Higher Education, September 21, 2021.

Post-graduation work programs in the US also remain highly competitive, and there are signs that the Biden administration will act to strengthen the US international education system.17 We anticipate that the Biden administration’s work to address backlogs in the US immigration system will encourage more students to pursue Optional Practical Training (OPT) programs,18 especially students studying in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), who often benefit from longer post-grad work eligibility.

  1. For more information on OPT programs in the US, please visit the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

The OPT program has seen massive growth over the past decade, with the number of international students pursuing OPT growing from 76,000 in 2010 to over 220,000 in 2020.19

  1. US student data provided courtesy of the Institute of International Education (IIE), except where noted.

We expect that the demand for post-graduation work opportunities will only continue to grow in 2022 and beyond. Institutions that are able to promote competitive work permit programs and connect students with local employers will have a key advantage as the international education sector emerges from the pandemic.

The Success (or Failure) of Hybrid Delivery Will Define the Next 10 Years

Work permits may entice a student to a given destination to ensure their post-graduation success, but students need to first find and enroll in programs that will help them pursue the career of their dreams. Thanks to the pandemic, many students have started their international journey online, but few students are keen to remain at home before they graduate.

While online and hybrid programs were gaining momentum prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 and 2021 have seen an explosion in digital course offerings. Though post-secondary institutions are now transitioning back to in-person course delivery, the accessibility of online and hybrid courses will likely dominate conversations around program development and recruitment over the next decade.

For institutions, online and hybrid courses offer an opportunity to reach a broader audience without requiring significant additional physical infrastructure. Online learning environments can also provide an avenue to deliver introductory and transitional courses that help students prepare for their full-time studies before they step foot on campus. In the short term, hybrid courses also allow institutions to abide by classroom capacity and social distancing requirements without compromising course timelines.

Schools staffed with professors who can offer an engaging remote learning experience will be the schools that attract more students. A talented and diverse group of instructors is what really drives institutions to success. As we move forward, institutions that prioritize pursuing the best faculty members will be the ones who pique the interest of top international talent.

— Feridun Hamdullahpur, Former President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Waterloo

There are new possibilities on the horizon, as well. One example is the surge in micro-credential courses,20 where individuals can complete condensed courses that focus on limited material, such as cryptocurrency. These micro-credentials could also enable businesses to provide ongoing learning opportunities to their employees without significantly impacting their business operations. But the rise (and fall) of massive open online courses (MOOCs) may be a cautionary tale for any institution planning to invest heavily in micro-credentials.

Is It What Students Want?

Institutions may be pushing for more fully online or hybrid program offerings, but international students are largely uninterested in online studies. Many institutions and organizations reported that students (and instructors) dislike online-only studies,21 with less than 30% of survey respondents stating that they had significant interest in online studies.22

While it’s likely that some students were dissatisfied with online learning because they had no other choice, limitations related to internet reliability, instructor availability, and student interactivity likely also played a large role. Still, many students reported that online studies were attractive because they offer flexibility in study location and time, and they make it easier to maintain employment while completing post-secondary education. Students viewed hybrid learning more favourably, by comparison, because it provides the best of both worlds: some flexibility and some in-person student and instructor interaction.

There is one notable caveat to general student disinterest in online studies: many international students have reported that they would consider online studies if tuition prices were lower. Currently, many hybrid and online programs have tuition rates at or near in-person costs. But students studying online don’t get the same benefits, such as the ability to access on-campus recreational facilities and study spaces, participate in social activities and clubs, and ask their instructors questions in real time (in some cases).

  1. Alex Usher, “Global Higher Education’s Post-Covid Future (3) – New Pedagogies, New Credentials.” Higher Education Strategy Associates, September 29, 2021.
  1. Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), International Student Survey 2021. September 13, 2021.

Emerging Markets for Post-Secondary Institutions

Whether or not online and hybrid courses expand in the coming years, many international students will travel abroad and experience their international education in-person. As we look ahead at international education trends in 2022 and over the next decade, it’s important to take a closer look at student mobility, both for online and in-person enrollment.

Understanding key student flows, by country or region, can help institutions make educated decisions about their recruitment efforts. And while there are a few emerging markets that we predict will guide expanding recruitment efforts in the years to come, China and India will continue to dominate as the top two source markets for international students.

After all, the explosive growth of the Indian student market and the ongoing strength of the Chinese student market defined the 2010s. By 2020, Chinese and Indian students accounted for more than half the international student populations in the US, Canada, and Australia.23

  1. Institute of International Education (IIE), International Student Mobility Flows and COVID-19 Realites. July 29, 2021.

The number of Indian students in Canada surpassed 200,000 in 2019, growing by 10x over 2010.

We know that recruiting from the Chinese and Indian markets will remain a priority strategy for many institutions around the world. Sir Steve Smith, who was named the UK’s International Education Champion in 2020, has identified India as a target market for the UK higher ed sector moving forward. The Canadian government placed both China and India on the eligible country list for Student Direct Stream (SDS) applicants to allow for quicker visa processing.24 And many key figures in Australia have noted that students from China and India will be crucial to drive recovery for their international education industry.25

  1. For more information about Canada’s SDS program, please visit the Government of Canada website.
  1. Manu Prakaash, “Australia must diversify further, former PM suggests.” The PIE News, September 27, 2021.
But these two markets may be headed in opposite directions. The Chinese government is actively working to develop their post-secondary education systems and institutions, transitioning China from a top source market to a destination market of its own. At the same time, China’s population of young adults (aged 18 to 23) declined by nearly 50 million between 2010 and 2020, and is expected to shrink by another 18 million by 2050.26
India, on the other hand, has become home to the largest population of young adults worldwide, with nearly 150 million in 2020. Though the Indian young adult demographic is expected to decline somewhat over the next 30 years, India is still projected to become the world’s largest middle class consumer market by 2030.27 The rise of the middle class in India will enable more Indian students to consider studying abroad, and this massive population of students seeking to better their education will drive recruitment conversations for years to come.
  1. All population projections in this report are based on UN Population Prospects 2019 calculations and estimates of domestic populations aged 18 to 23. GDP projections in this section are sourced from PwC’s The World in 2050 GDP projections for 2020 to 2030, except for Kenyan GDP projections, which are sourced from the EIU.
  1. Mark Abssy, Lenore Elle Hawkins, and Chris Versace, “World Reimagined: The Rise of the Global Middle Class.” Nasdaq, July 9, 2021.

Top Projected Emerging Markets

While China and India will remain crucial recruitment markets for the foreseeable future, the pandemic has shown the risks of low market diversification. Even the temporary closure of one major market can have a significant impact on international student populations.

As we look ahead at the next 10 years, there are a few source markets which have potential to reshape student recruitment for institutions in Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia. Based on ApplyBoard internal modelling and industry data, we believe that Nigeria, Kenya, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, and Indonesia are high-growth-potential markets that are ready to expand and that remain relatively untapped by institutions in each destination market. Each market has its own potential strengths and opportunities, but the one common trend is that there are countless students from these nations looking to further their education abroad. Expanding recruitment and diversification efforts to these markets will not only help institutions grow and thrive, it will also help insulate them against the volatility of international relations and domestic political conditions.

Nigerian and Kenyan student populations are poised to grow rapidly as the industrialization and development of many African countries reshapes recruitment efforts worldwide. Case in point: by 2050, one in every three young adults will be an African citizen.

Similarly, though political tensions have made this regional market more volatile than others in recent years, Egypt is on track to become a strong recruitment opportunity for post-secondary institutions looking to diversify their student base. And while the Asian student recruitment market is likely to remain dominated by India and China over the next 10 years, institutions have the potential to leverage their existing activities in the region to recruit growing populations of Pakistani, Indonesian, and Bangladeshi students.

The emergence of the Nigerian market has become a common refrain when discussing African source markets for international students.28 That’s hardly surprising given that the number of Nigerian post-secondary study permit holders in Canada exceeded 9,000 in every year from 2016 to 2020,29 up from 2,800 in 2010. In the US, the Nigerian post-secondary student population soared from 7,100 in 2010 to 13,700 in 2020. And in the UK, higher ed institutions have seen more than 10,000 Nigerian students enrolled every year for the past five years.30

Looking forward, the population of Nigerians aged 18 to 23 is expected to increase by nearly 8.1 million over the next 10 years. This will push Nigeria’s young adult population to over 30 million. At the same time, Nigeria’s GDP per capita is projected to grow by 30%. This will undoubtedly help strengthen Nigeria’s burgeoning middle class, though Nigerian students are likely to remain highly price-conscious and favour markets that have lower tuition and cost of living, such as Canada.31

We foresee one roadblock that might impede significant growth in this market: low student visa approval rates. Nigerian students are often 20 years old when they complete secondary school, and older applicants are less likely to be approved for student visas in many destination markets.

  1. We covered the Nigerian market for Canadian institutions in more detail in an ApplyInsights article.
  1. All UK higher education enrollment data courtesy of the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), except where noted.
  1. For more information about the cost of living and cost of tuition across Canada, check out the ApplyInsights blog.

Kenya’s booming student population and national focus on economic growth make this East African nation one to watch in the next 10 years. Kenya’s population is projected to exceed 65 million by 2030, with over 8 million Kenyans aged 18 to 23. Kenya’s GDP per capita also nearly doubled from 2010 to 2020, with future growth expected.

Since 2015, Kenyan student populations around the world have grown steadily. The number of Kenyan post-secondary study permit holders in Canada more than doubled from 2015 to 2020. The Kenyan student population at UK higher education institutions grew by nearly 9% over the same period, while the US saw more than 20% growth.

The pandemic has made it more difficult for Kenyan students to afford to study abroad, an experience shared by many prospective international students. But local factors—such as significant increases in domestic university tuition fees32 and closures of parallel programs33—have made studying abroad more attractive than ever for Kenyans.

  1. Gilbert Nganga, “Kenya’s University of Nairobi in the midst of crises.” University World News, July 22, 2021.
  1. Gilbert Nganga, “Uncertain future for lucrative parallel degree programme.” University World News, November 27, 2019.

Want to know more about the Kenyan market for Canadian institutions? Check out our ApplyInsights article on the topic.

Pakistan is well on its way to becoming a top source market for international students. The post-secondary student population in Pakistan is poised to surpass that of the US by 2025, but Pakistan’s education system is unlikely to be able to accommodate the ballooning demand for education opportunities.34 Moreover, poor domestic socioeconomic conditions make studying (and working) abroad an attractive option for Pakistani students.

The surge of students from Pakistan is already evident. Pakistani student populations at US colleges and universities rose by nearly 60% from 2010 to 2020, matching the growth of Pakistani higher education student populations in the UK. By comparison, Pakistani student populations in Canada grew by 30% over the same period, though Canadian post-secondary institutions attracted around 60% fewer Pakistani students than the US or UK in 2020.

There is significant potential for all three markets to attract larger populations of students from Pakistan in the future, but regional study hubs such as Saudi Arabia will present competition for this high-growth market. Canada has already moved to ease visa processing for Pakistani students by adding them to the Student Direct Stream (SDS) program, though uptake has been limited.

  1. Robert Hunter, Education in Pakistan. World Education News & Reviews (WENR), February 25, 2020.

Following in the footsteps of India, Bangladesh is poised to become a significant source of international students in the coming years. Bangladesh’s population of 18 to 23 year olds is expected to hit 18 million by 2025, and Bangladesh’s economy is booming, with over 50 million more Bangladeshis expected to join the middle class by 2030. But Bangladesh’s domestic education system is not capable of accommodating this influx of post-secondary students.35 This will lead to strong outbound mobility, with Bangladeshi students looking to study abroad and potentially work towards permanent residency after graduation.

The surge in the Bangladeshi market has already hit Canada and the US.36 The number of Canadian post-secondary study permit holders from Bangladesh rose from under 2,000 in 2010 to more than 7,000 in 2020. Similarly, Bangladeshi student populations at US colleges and universities boomed from 2,800 in 2010 to 8,800 in 2020. By contrast, the number of Bangladeshi students in the UK remained stable over the same period, at around 3,200.

What drove students from Bangladesh to Canada and the US instead of the UK? One key factor is lower cost of living and tuition rates. Canada is largely seen as more affordable than other destination markets,37 especially if students pursue post-secondary education in Atlantic Canada or the Prairie provinces. The US is also seen as less expensive than the UK, and this perception can make all the difference for price-conscious Bangladeshis. Another leading factor is word of mouth. Success stories from students who are studying or have studied in Canada and the US have encouraged more Bangladeshi students to look at Canada and the US as study abroad destinations.

  1. Stefan Trines, Education in Bangladesh. World Education News & Reviews (WENR), August 1, 2019.
  1. We covered the Bangladeshi market for Canadian post-secondary institutions in an ApplyInsights post.
  1. Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), International Student Survey 2021, US Edition. May 14, 2021.

International student populations from the Middle East have grown steadily over the past five years. Many Iranian students have pursued post-graduate studies abroad—primarily in the US and Canada—while many Saudi Arabian students took advantage of government-sponsored study abroad scholarship programs to study in the UK, US, and Australia.

Like in Pakistan, the Egyptian education system will likely be unable to accommodate the major influx of post-secondary students expected over the next 10 years. Egyptian citizens highly value higher education, as demonstrated by the country’s free post-secondary education at public universities, and Egypt’s post-secondary sector is improving both in terms of quality and capacity.38 But many graduates are unable to find employment in their field after graduation. As a result, many Egyptians pursue post-secondary education in neighbouring Saudi Arabia or the UAE, but there is substantial potential for other destination markets to attract Egyptian students if they have well-established post-graduation immigration pathways.

In Canada and the US, the population of Egyptian post-secondary students doubled from 2010 to 2020, reaching 2,100 in Canada and over 3,800 in the US. UK higher education institutions saw Egyptian student populations increase by 70% over the past five years, reaching 2,900 in 2020. With more than 12 million Egyptians expected to reach young adulthood by 2030, Egypt is on track to become the largest source market in the Middle East.

  1. Wachira Kigotho, “Rankings: Strong performance by Egypt and South Africa.” University World News, June 10, 2021.

Indonesia has been a key recruitment market for Australian institutions for the last 20 years, but this Southeast Asian market has strong potential for other destinations as well. Despite having a relatively small English-speaking population, Indonesia’s students learn English as part of their primary and secondary school curriculum. And in major urban centres such as Jakarta, English-speaking populations have risen substantially over the past decade.

At the same time, Indonesia’s young adult population grew by nearly 3 million and Indonesia sustained a 5.6% GDP growth rate per year leading up to the pandemic.39 With the pandemic stalling this impressive growth, Indonesian students are more likely than ever to look at studying abroad, whether to improve their education and skills or to emigrate.

While close geographical proximity previously benefited Australian institutions, Indonesian students are increasingly looking at other destination markets. The population of new Indonesian post-secondary students in the US rose by 20% over the past decade. The number of Indonesian students at UK higher education institutions grew by 20% in the past five years, and Indonesia is a key target market for future UK recruitment plans.40 The Indonesian post-secondary student population in Canada nearly doubled over the past 10 years. However, Canada remains the smallest destination market among the four for Indonesian nationals.

Beyond these six emerging markets, booming young adult populations in Ghana, Tanzania, and Ethiopia could present secondary recruitment opportunities in Africa, while Vietnam, the Philippines, and South Korea could help diversify Asian student recruitment over the next decade.

  • Ghana’s GDP per capita nearly doubled from 2010 to 2020, and Ghanian student populations have grown anywhere from 50% (in the UK) to 300% (in Canada) over the same period.41
  • Tanzania’s young adult population is expected to reach 10 million by 2030, and the country’s economic development will help drive middle class growth.42
  • Ethiopia is expected to have the second-largest young adult population in Africa by 2030. Ethiopia’s GDP nearly tripled from 2010 to 2020, and strong government investment in education43 could help Ethiopia develop into a strong recruitment market by 2030.
  • Vietnam’s young adult population isn’t expected to grow in the next decade, but a strong middle class will empower more Vietnamese students to study abroad. The UK government has identified Vietnam as a key growth opportunity over the next five years.44
  • Filipino student mobility rose pre-pandemic, and the economy of the Philippines has recovered better than expected.45 Most destination markets have already seen strong Filipino student population growth, and further growth is expected over the next decade.46
  • South Korean student populations have fallen in recent years in all four major destination markets. But South Korean students are more likely to study abroad than students from other Asian markets,47 and South Korea’s rapid economic growth and poverty reduction will allow more students to study abroad.48
  1. According to UNESCO UIS data and estimations.
  1. USAID, “Education in Ethiopia.” October 29, 2021.
  1. To find out more about the growing Vietnamese market for Canadian institutions, check out the ApplyInsights blog.
  1. To find out more about the Filipino market for Canadian institutions, check out the ApplyInsights blog.
  1. Based on ApplyBoard analysis of student mobility data from UNESCO UIS.
  1. The World Bank, “Korea Overview.” October 19, 2021.

Beyond 2030

The next 10 years will be an exciting time for international education. Though it’s difficult to say when the world will move into a true post-pandemic period, international travel has already begun to normalize, and we’ve seen that international student populations are once again galvanized to pursue their studies abroad.

But there are certain trends which have only just begun to affect the international education sector. New destination markets are developing rapidly. High-growth recruitment markets are showing signs of potential development. Institutions are developing and implementing new recruitment and relationship plans that could bridge continental divides. These factors have significant potential to shape the industry beyond 2030, and they could exert their influence on the market sooner than anyone expects.

Future Recruitment Markets Predicted to Grow

The global rise of post-secondary student populations in Africa is expected to continue well into the 21st century. Beyond the African nations we detailed earlier, a few other countries are expected to be home to growing young adult populations over the next 30 years. Mozambique, Uganda, Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, and Sudan are all expected to see their young adult populations grow by at least 2 million from 2020 to 2050. Though many of these countries have larger Francophone populations, the growth of student populations in these countries could still lead to future recruitment opportunities for English-language institutions that establish strong recruitment teams and relationships in Africa over the next 10 years.

Though many countries in Latin America saw larger economic recessions as a result of the pandemic, we predict that Latin America will remain a potential high-growth market over the next 30 years. Specifically, Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia all saw significant middle class development pre-pandemic,49 resulting in more students from those countries studying abroad. If these nations can return to growth and increased stability post-pandemic, institutions in the US and Canada should expect an influx of interest from Latin America.
When it comes to Asian student markets, we foresee at least one other student market that could boom well before 2050: Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan’s economy expanded significantly pre-pandemic, transforming this strategic link between China and Europe into a thriving upper-middle-income country.50 The Kazakh government has also promoted international student mobility51 and set the ambitious goal of enabling at least 20% of students from Kazakhstan to study abroad.
  1. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), “The World in 2050.” February 2017.

New Competition from Emerging Destination Markets

When it comes to recruiting students from these markets, Canada, Australia, the US, and the UK will face growing competition from emerging destination markets over the next 30 years. Russia and China have both enacted strong international student recruitment plans over the past five years. From 2016 to 2021, the number of international students in Russia grew from under 300,000 to nearly 400,000.52 In China, international student populations rose from 400,000 in 2016 to 500,000 by 2019. Cultural and political relationships between Russia and China and key source markets will significantly impact the growth of these two markets moving forward.

  1. IIE, Project Atlas, 2020.

Additionally, smaller destination markets are increasingly establishing themselves as regional hubs for international students. These regional destinations allow students to study abroad while remaining relatively close to home. Some of these countries, like Ireland53 and Malaysia,54 benefit from ease of travel within their region. Many also position themselves as lower-cost destinations than the UK or the US.

  1. Maina Waruru, “Ireland growing as destination for African students.” The PIE News, April 15, 2021.
Many of these smaller destinations could also become more reliant on international students as their domestic student populations decline. Smaller destination markets that saw significant international student growth from 2015 to 2019 and which have shrinking or stable domestic student populations55 include Ireland, Spain, Germany, Japan, and the Netherlands. The development of these markets will increase competition for international students worldwide, even if new emerging markets provide larger prospective student populations.
  1. Based on UN Population Prospects 2019 calculations and estimates of domestic populations aged 18 to 23.

Given the advantages in funding that schools in so many emerging destination markets hold, schools in Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia must continue to lean on their unique program offerings, such as work-integrated learning programs, in order to compete on the world stage.

— Feridun Hamdullahpur, Former President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Waterloo

Institutions Going Global to Recruit Students at Home

With many students shelving their study abroad plans—at least temporarily—due to the pandemic, some institutions are assessing how they can provide international education abroad. Universities in Australia and the UK have a strong history of overseas offerings, allowing students to complete their foreign education from their home country. Monash University, for example, has a campus in Malaysia, while the University of Nottingham has international branch campuses in both Malaysia and China.

It’s likely that institutional partnerships (also known as articulation agreements) and satellite campuses in other countries will grow at an exponential rate over the next 30 years. Articulation agreements can help institutions establish key pathways for students with varying educational backgrounds and skill requirements. When articulation agreements are formed between institutions in different countries, they can allow a student to start their studies at home before completing them abroad. But these agreements have also been criticized as often focused on the goals of the institutions rather than the goals of the students.56 Establishing the infrastructure and support needed to ensure student success when transferring between institutions will be critical to realizing long-term growth.
  1. Rebecca Lavinson, “Articulation Agreements Are Just a Small Part of the Answer.” Inside Higher Ed, January 28, 2021.

Developing overseas (or international branch) campuses has the potential to reduce the impact and growth of regional hubs, but these campuses can require significant investment. Additionally, students may not be attracted to an international branch campus if their goal is to experience different cultures and environments, or if they are hoping to obtain a post-graduation work permit.

Ultimately, institutions need to ensure that they understand, and are taking into account, the goals of their international students rather than just their bottom line. Negative reviews from students who experience significant challenges during their studies abroad could damage a school’s growth potential in a critical market.

The Professionalization of Student Recruitment and the Role of Agent Aggregators

The expansion of the student recruitment industry was one of the major drivers of international student populations over the last 10 years. Within that time, companies like ApplyBoard were founded to help education agents better support their students with access to information and institutions. Along the way, the number of agents active in markets around the world has increased. As the industry continues to expand, this trend is poised to continue.

There is a further shift happening in the industry that is putting the focus on the student experience and a new age of student recruitment professionalization. An example of this shift can be found right here at ApplyBoard with the launch of our ApplyBoard Counsellor Course (ABCC) curriculum in 2021.57 We designed these courses to provide our recruitment partners with foundational and professional training to help them guide students to the best study abroad decisions for themselves and their families.

  1. To find out more about ApplyBoard’s Counsellor Courses, check out our dedicated ABCC portal.

In only six months since the launch of ABCC, more than 2,000 individuals have completed one or more of our four Counsellor Courses, which focus on Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia. Our courses have also met with strong positive reviews, with the vast majority of post-course survey respondents highly recommending the curriculum.

As the industry recovers from the pandemic and embraces virtual recruitment as part of the new normal, it will be essential to ensure education agents have the skills and training they need to assist students. Institutions working with agents that are unaware of all of the intricacies of their market may face lower visa approval rates. As well, students who are not adequately prepared by their counsellor to succeed in the market they’ve chosen may require additional assistance from their institution, or they may not successfully complete their studies. In an increasingly competitive landscape, we know firsthand that establishing strong and fruitful recruitment relationships will help both institutions and students thrive.

Stay Tuned

In this report, we’ve touched on a wide range of factors that drove international education trends throughout the pandemic and which will influence the sector in the years to come. But this report is not intended to be exhaustive. Many of the trends we’ve discussed are more complex than we’ve outlined here. And as the pandemic has brought home, some of the most profound factors shaping the industry may not be on anyone’s radar yet.

As the industry continues to ramp up toward a bright future, competition across markets will be fierce. We can expect policy surprises from governments looking to better position themselves to welcome more international students, and these policies will almost certainly have knock-on effects on other markets. One thing, at least, is certain: differences in the degree of post-pandemic economic recovery will be a strong influence in both the short and long term.

As for ApplyBoard itself, we’ve got some very exciting developments planned for 2022. We’re on track to enroll 60,000 students next year. We’ll be launching in two more markets, Ireland and New Zealand. And we’ll be continuing to invest in high-growth-potential markets such as Nigeria and Kenya in order to better serve their growing student populations.

Of course, we’ll continue to provide key data insights and forecasts across markets as well. Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be releasing detailed articles and analyses that expand on some of the topics we discussed in this report.

Questions about this report?

Alessandra Manieri

Manager, Public Relations