Working out the sums in competitive world of international education

Malik Sarwar says economies everywhere are vying for international students as demand rises

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 September, 2013, 3:05am

Between 1980 and 2010, the number of students studying abroad tripled. Today, more than three million worldwide are studying for an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in a foreign country.

As the flow of students increases, the patterns of who studies where are also changing. Over the past three decades, a significant number of students have chosen to study in the West. The US and Britain are the most popular destinations, welcoming 30 per cent of the world's international students. More than 100,000 Chinese students currently study in Britain.

Other countries are keen to challenge this. Australia, for example, estimates that the inflow of international students was worth A$16 billion (HK$111 billion) to its economy in 2011, supporting some 100,000 jobs. The government is increasing efforts to attract foreign students - signing co-operation agreements with India and China, for example, reforming its student visa programme, and encouraging every Australian university to establish an exchange arrangement with Asian partners.

But it is not just developed economies competing to attract students. HSBC research suggests that emerging economies will account for the largest share of global growth over the coming decades, and many Western economies now encourage people to study in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

The British Council, for example, aims to radically increase the number of British students travelling to China from around 3,500 in 2011 to 15,000. Philanthropists are also encouraging the flow of students from West to East.

If universities in emerging nations invest and grow, they will increasingly be able to compete for the brightest students from every country. This will spur the universities of the West to innovate.

With rising affluence and an increasingly competitive workplace that demands a global outlook, the appetite for international education is likely to grow. But for those who wish to educate their children overseas, there is a need to factor in living costs, exchange rates and inflation.

Many people are even using retirement savings to pay for their children's education, and nearly a quarter of people cited the cost of their children's education as significantly affecting their ability to save for old age, according to an HSBC study. In some of the 15 countries in the study, which surveyed 15,000 people, the figure was much higher. In India it was 36 per cent; in China and the United Arab Emirates, it was 34 per cent.

It is vital that the true cost of education is considered, but, for those who look ahead, there are more choices and opportunities than ever before.

Malik Sarwar is global head of wealth development at HSBC