India is up. China is down. Very few U.S. students studied abroad during the first year of the pandemic. Those three points, in a nutshell, represent key findings from recent data released jointly on Nov. 14, 2022, by the U.S. Department of State and the Institute of International Education.
The “Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange” is published each year at the start of International Education Week. It provides detailed insights regarding study abroad and international students.
Most source countries see a growth in students heading to the U.S., including India sending 19% more students, due to steady decline in Chinese students studying in the U.S., its largest group of foreign students, has opened up opportunities for Indian students as the top global destination for higher education seeks to fill the gap in international enrolments since COVID-19.
Though students from nearly all source countries saw a growth in the number of foreign students in the U.S. for the first time since the pandemic during the 2021-2022 academic session, China was among the few exceptions.
For the second consecutive year, Chinese students in the U.S. saw a decline of 8.6% in 2021-2022 at 2.9 lakh students, according the Open Doors 2022 report on international students released on Monday and brought out by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The student numbers from China are the lowest since 2014-2015. In 2020-2021, China reported a decline of 14.8%.
Overall, in 2021-2022, there were a total 9.48 lakh international students in the U.S. — an improvement of 4% over the previous year when students from across the world reported a sharp decline due to travel restrictions during COVID-19. But international student enrolments continue to be behind pre-pandemic level (2019-2020) by 11.8%.
This year’s report shows a 91% decline in the total number of U.S. students who studied abroad during the 2020-2021 academic year. The pandemic also led colleges to develop more online global learning opportunities. In fact, 62% of colleges offered virtual internships with multinational companies, collaborative online coursework with students abroad and other experiences. While the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to a 45.6% decline in new international students in 2020, the latest data, covering the 2021-2022 academic year, indicates that the total number of international students in the U.S. – 948,519 – has started to recover. This can be seen in a 3.8% increase over the 914,095 international students in the U.S. in 2020. Still, the number is well below the nearly 1.1 million international students reported in 2018. Much of the recent growth is driven by an increase in the number of new international students – 261,961 – which is up 80% over the 145,528 from 2020 but still 2.14% below the 267,712 from 2019.
Students from China and India comprise more than half – 52% – of all international students. That isn’t anything new, but what is noteworthy is that during the 2021-2022 academic year, Chinese student enrollment fell 9% and the number of Indian students increased by 19% over the prior year. This has big implications for international diversity at U.S. colleges. This is because Chinese students tend to enroll in a range of majors, while most Indian students – 66.4% – study in just a handful of programs: engineering, math and computer science.
China and India each have around 1.4 billion people, but by 2023 the United Nations predicts that India will overtake China as the world’s most populous country. This continued growth will further strain India’s higher education system, leading to more students pursuing advanced degrees abroad. At the same time, poor job prospects at home are driving many Indian students to pursue academic and career pathways that lead away from India. This is especially true in high-paying, high-growth fields like computers and information technology.
Other contributing factors to the increase from India include a change in tone on the part of the U.S. government. The Biden administration is working to reestablish the U.S. as a welcoming destination for international students by enacting reversals of Trump-era immigration policies. Those policies caused uncertainty and fear among international students. The Biden administration has also prioritized the processing of student visas in India.