Battling for market share 1: the ‘Major Players’ and international student mobility

The battle is on for market share in the international student market. This week we reported on major study released by the Observatory of Borderless Higher Education (OBHE) on the players in the field, and market share – International Student Mobility: Patterns and Trends. The Observatory report identifies four categories: (1) the Major Players; (2) the Middle Powers; (3) the Emerging Destinations, and (4) the Emerging Contenders. Over the course of this week, GlobalHigherEd will report in more depth on each of these 4 categories, starting with the ‘Major Players’.

The Major Players are the US, UK and Australia, with 45% of the total amount of all foreign students, or 1.2 out of 2.7 million students. The US dominates the market, with a wopping 22% share. Its students come from all over the world, though Asia generates 58% of the total international student figure. However, of particular interest, says the Observatory Report, is that

…India, China, Japan and South Korea…make up around 70% of the per year regional total for Asia, and 40% of the total number of overseas students studying at US institutions.

While the overall share for the US is large, by comparison, the US’s performance is fading relative to levels of growth amongst some of the other Major Players and Middle Powers. Contrast these figures. During 1999-2005, overseas enrollments to the US grew by 17%. However, in the UK they grew by 29%, Australia 42%, Germany 46%, and in France 81%! Each country though, including France (see below), draws upon differential sources (apart from China) to support these growth rates.


Source: OBHE (2007) International Student Mobility: Patterns and Trends.

The US can boast world class institutions and high brand visibility, but it cannot be complacent. September 11 has caused uncertainty about the US as a destination, and visa restrictions have made matters worse. While these are currently being addressed, there is little doubt that this has done considerable damage to the US’s overall position.

Nor can the UK feel confident about its own levels of growth (whose overall share is 12%), the Observatory Report notes. There has been decline in numbers of students coming from what were traditionally strong source countries, especially Malaysia. Some of the reason for this is the very high cost of living in the UK and creeping fees. Added to this, countries like Australia have targetted the Malaysian market, including setting up campuses in Malaysia. In response, UK universities have sought to target the Chinese market more directly, as GlobalHigherEd reported recently.

The third Major Player is Australia with 11% share of the global market. The Australian government has invested large sums in gathering high quality information about developments in the global higher education marketplace and strategically marketed its institutions (see our earlier posting on this theme). It is also, relative to the UK and US, affordable. However, it has become concerned by countries like Singapore, Malaysia, the Middle East and China–all important sending countries to Australia–taking lessons from Australia, and seeking to establishing themselves as regional hubs and major players in the field.

The Major Players cannot afford to lose their share in the jostle for a wider share, in large part as higher education institutions have come to depend on these sources of funding. Anything that destabilizes market share, as we saw with the US, will cause more than a ripple in the sector…

Susan Robertson

6 thoughts on “Battling for market share 1: the ‘Major Players’ and international student mobility

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