International student numbers are set to soar due to an additional one billion post-secondary graduates worldwide up to 2050, with three out of every four expected to come from either Asia or Africa, according to projections by HolonIQ

Pre-pandemic, there were five million internationally mobile students, however, HolonIQ predicts that this number could be higher than eight million students by 2030, with high levels of demand for qualifications taught in English.

Big Four destinations remain popular

Since 2000, the share of international students collectively hosted by major English-speaking destinations, the US, UK, Canada, and Australia (the “big four”) has hovered around 37%. However, there have been shifts in market share during this period. The US, for example, has lost approximately 15% market share since 2000, particularly between 2015 and 2020, while Canada had a significant gain in market share during that period.

Interest in the “big four” destinations remains high – an IDP survey of more than 20,000 prospective and current international students shows that 34% of students are considering studying in at least three of these four major destinations. IDP figures also suggest that the US may be set to regain some of its market share, with the percentage of students saying that the US is their first choice of destination increasing by three percentage points.

While the “big four” are likely to remain the most popular destinations for international students, particularly given the prestige attached to some of the universities in these countries, HolonIQ’s analysis suggests that levels of demand may exceed capacity, opening up opportunities for other destinations offering English-taught degrees and qualifications in the future.

Concerns over affordability influence destination choice

Opportunities for other destinations offering English-taught degrees are also likely as cost of living increases force students to focus more on affordability. There is growing evidence that students will consider destinations they may not have previously contemplated if the destination can offer the right balance in terms of affordability of both course and cost of living, and part-time work rights.

IDP reports that 51% of students are reconsidering their decision to study abroad due to cost of living increases, and that 81% of students intend to, or are already, working part-time. An ApplyBoard education agent survey confirms the impact of cost of living increases, with agents saying that course cost (85%) and cost of living (73%) are top student concerns when deciding where to study. As a result, 87% of agents ranked Canada as the “winning” destination in terms of affordability of cost of living and courses. ApplyBoard also reports that 64% of students searching on its platform elected to view only programs with tuition fees below C$50,000 – a significant shift from 2019 when “60% of searches on the ApplyBoard Platform were for programs with tuition fees over C$50,000 per year”.

Post-study work rights a key driver

Post-study work rights are the primary, or an influencing factor for 63% of students globally when choosing their study abroad destination. This is especially true for students from countries such as Taiwan, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Any change in post-study work policies in the “big four” destinations is likely to impact student flows – for example, 44% of students would consider changing their study destination if the length of post-study work visas in their chosen destination was shortened. This suggests that destinations that can offer lower living costs and attractive post-study work visa options are also likely to see increased demand from international students. But it also illustrates the potential fragility of this growth and its vulnerability to domestic political pressures to restrict post-study rights in some destinations.