Written by Joanna Hughes

International student numbers are anticipated to rise to a staggering eight million by the year 2025 with an overall projected global mobility growth rate of 60 percent in the decade between 2015 and 2020, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). And while we often talk about international studies in the context of its value for students, the impact of exchange extends far beyond them. What do host countries also stand to gain from rising international enrollments? Here’s a closer look.

Contributions to the Economy

The economic impact of international students cannot be overstated. Nor can it be limited to tuition dollars, food and clothing, transportation and other living expenses.

Consider, for example, the US, a major destination for international students. According to the Institute of International Education (IIE), based on data from the US Department of Commerce international students contributed a significant $39.4 billion to the US economy in 2016. While tuition is a big part of the equation, their contributions to the economy don’t end there. IIE asserts, “Students from around the world who study in the United States also contribute to America's scientific and technical research and bring international perspectives into US classrooms, helping prepare American undergraduates for global careers, and often lead to longer-term business relationships and economic benefits.”

The same applies to all host countries -- even those where international students receive generous funding. According to a decades-long study conducted by Denmark think tank DEA, international students contributed a net total of 165.6 million Danish krone ($23.8 million) to the economy -- thus eliminating the misconception of them being a drain on public resources. DEA Head of Research Martin Junge said, “As long as the labor market can absorb more international students, there is really good business for society in increasing both recruitment and retention.”

Another way to look at it? “International students are not isolated from the society in terms of the living and education expenses they bring to the economic table. Something like a potluck party where everyone brings in a dish. Only in this case, in spite of the funding and aid provided to some of the students, their expenses in the foreign economy brings in a very positive impact,” proposes MBA admissions consultants MBA Crystal Ball.

Contributions to Campus

However, not all international student contributions can be viewed in monetary terms. Russell Group senior policy analyst Hollie Chandler points out the degree to which international students in the UK benefit their host country.

“For example, international students benefit our universities by ensuring that many courses remain viable, which provides UK students with greater choice. International students also increase the social and cultural diversity of our campuses, enriching the research and learning environment and helping home students to develop internationally relevant skills. Foreign PhD students bring new research ideas and expertise to our universities and help to strengthen their international partnerships,” Chandler argues.

Conversely, without this diversity, universities might suffer from stagnation -- thereby losing ground in the international arena.

Still not convinced? Consider that immigrants represented 40 percent of all Nobel Prizes won by Americans in chemistry, medicine and physics in the years between 2000 and 2016. Meanwhile, in 2016, all six American Nobel Prize winners in economics and scientific fields were immigrants. The takeaway? Welcoming international students provides a vital foundation for their work.

Contributions to Soft Power

“Soft power” has been defined as “the ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants without force or coercion."

According to Chandler, international students play a pivotal soft role in this respect, as well. “As graduates, international students increase the country’s soft power when they return home and become informal ambassadors for the UK and our universities, strengthening trade, research and diplomatic links. Some international graduates will also remain in the UK to work, many filling professional-level jobs in high-value sectors, making additional tax and National Insurance contributions and developing the UK’s skilled workforce,” she explains.

There’s no denying international students have plenty to gain from their time abroad. And these relationships are not one-sided, but reciprocal. In addition to bringing themselves and their tuition dollars, international students also bring a breadth and depth of current and future benefits for their host countries!

ArticleEducationStudy AbroadInternational News
Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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