U.S. is Losing an Opportunity for Economic Growth
“International students studying in the US become powerful contributors to the economy…impacting foreign relations in ways that can lead to global growth. “
It is easy to view the value of international students in terms of economic impact says Gretchen M. Bataille, senior consultant at Navitas USA. But, as she explains, international students contribute much more than tuition fees, and unfortunately, the US seems to be missing the memo.
Education is not often considered an export. However, contrary to images of barges laden with goods, the United States’ most valuable exports are services, including education. In July 2017, services accounted for over one-third of total exports at $65.8 billion.
International students studying in the US become powerful contributors to the economy and contribute new ideas, lifestyles, values, and experiences to their home countries, transforming their local economies and impacting foreign relations in ways that can lead to global growth.
Global growth depends on international students continuing to pursue an education outside their home country. With nationalistic policies and rhetoric reverberating around the western world, we are putting one of our greatest exports at risk.
There have always been cycles of English-speaking countries creating barriers for international students to study there; today Brexit and recent US policies have resulted in much higher numbers of students bypassing them and choosing to study in Australia or Canada. Estimates of international students entering Canada are up 22% and Australia is up 15%–and those numbers continue to grow.
It is easy to view the value of international students in terms of economic impact; in the US international students added nearly $36 billion to the economy in 2015-16, $34,000 per student. However, international students contribute much more than tuition dollars.
Students everywhere must be prepared to communicate, collaborate, and compete in a world that is becoming smaller and more diverse.
NAFSA reported a recent survey found that almost 40% of companies surveyed missed international business opportunities because of a lack of internationally competent personnel. As the consumer market continues to expand outside of the US, universities cannot ignore the importance of producing internationally-competent graduates.
Nurturing a diverse international student population on our campuses enriches the learning experience for domestic students, which in turn benefits businesses and industry. Unfortunately, the US seems to be missing the memo. In a recent study of the pro-international policies of 38 countries, the US is not among the highest scored countries in any indicators in the study.
Nurturing a diverse international student population on our campuses enriches the learning experience for domestic students, which in turn benefits domestic businesses and industry
While international student enrolments in the US have grown steadily over the last decade, the US could be doing more to compete in an increasingly crowded market. According to a US News Best Countries survey, data on global perceptions, business, economic, and quality of life indicators revealed the UAE, Singapore, and India to be the best places to study abroad.
For countries seeking to increase their education exports, university rankings may continue to decrease in importance, with quality of life and political stability increasing in importance for international students.
By communicating clearly that international students are welcome on US campuses, the US can maintain its leadership status in global higher education over the long-term.
Canada’s policy changes anticipate doubling the international student population by 2022. The US needs to ramp up to encourage international student enrolment with similar results. This approach in the U.S. could add $72 billion to the economy annually within the next decade.
To preserve the benefits education as an export has afforded us, the US must reverse the current trend of a diminishing share of international students seeking an education here. Finding strategic and creative ways to encourage international students in a political environment that is increasingly insular will be challenging.
The export of education that is possible with increasing numbers of international students is a proven way to solidify the US’s status as a global leader. In the end, such policies and practices change the economic dynamics beyond the US and result is a stronger economy worldwide.