Counting International Student Numbers in Non-English Language Destinations

In the first of this two-part series, we took a look behind the mobility statistics reported by the top five English-language higher education receiving countries. In this second installment we take a look at the top five non-English language destinations: the agencies responsible for reporting mobility statistics, how they define international students, and what the latest data are showing.

For more on the problems associated with comparing academic mobility statistics please see last month’s feature article.


The primary source for data on international education in Germany is an annual publication produced by the Higher Education Information System (HIS), which is jointly funded and operated by the Federal and State governments. The publication, Wissenschaft Weltoffen, was issued in 2009 for the 19th time and provides data and commentary related to most aspects of international education in Germany.

A compendium of international statistics and survey results is also produced every three years by the German Ministry for Education and Research on behalf of the National Association of Student Services Organizations. The latest issue of the publication, Internationalization of Higher Education – Foreign Students in Germany – German Students Abroad, was published in April 2008 and is based on data and survey responses collected in summer 2006. The statistical data is derived from a number of different sources including the OECD, HIS and Wissenschaft Weltoffen.

Definition of an International Student

Wissenschaft Weltoffen defines international students as those who are nationals of any other country, besides Germany, enrolled at a German higher education institution. The report identifies two different categories of international student: ‘Mobile foreign students’ (Bildungsausländer), those who travel to Germany specifically for study, and ‘non-mobile foreign students’ (Bildungsinländer), those in possession of German secondary school qualifications and who likely have German residency status. Data thus include students who are long-term or permanent residents without German citizenship.

According to OECD and UNESCO data-collecting methodologies, the first category of students would be considered ‘international students’ in that they crossed an international border for the specific purpose of study, while the second category would be considered a ‘foreign student,’ or German-educated foreign citizen. Data include totals for international student enrollments and foreign student enrollments

Data & Sources

The 2009 edition of Wissenschaft Weltoffen reported that there were a total of 233,606 ‘foreign students’ studying in Germany in 2008 (12 percent of the total student body), comprised of 177,852 internationally mobile students (Bildungsausländer) and 55,754 non-mobile foreign students (Bildungsinländer). The 2008 figure represented the second year of decline after a peak in 2006 of 248,357 foreign students. China (23,983), Bulgaria (10,289), Poland (10,161), Russia (9,502) and Turkey (6,901) were the top five source countries among internationally mobile students.

First-time enrollments among international students has dropped from a high of 60,113 in 2003 to 53,759 in 2007, a number which was approximately 200 higher than in 2006 suggesting a leveling off of total enrollments in the near future. In 2006, just over 50 percent of all international students came from Europe, with 32 percent from Asia, 11 percent from Africa and 5.7 percent from the Americas.

The OECD found that in 2007 Germany had an 8.6 percent share of the world’s 3 million internationally mobile students, which approximates to 258,000 students. The authors of Internationalization of Higher Education – Foreign Students in Germany – German Students Abroad point out that the OECD number includes vocational students whereas Germany’s national statistics do not, which helps explain the higher OECD figure.

The UNESCO Institute of Statistics found that in 2007 there were 206,900 (7.4 percent of the world’s total) internationally mobile students enrolled in the German tertiary sector.

The Atlas of Student Mobility reports that there were a total of 233,606 international students in Germany in 2008, as reported by the Federal Statistic Office (Destatis) and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)


The National Ministry of Education is the primary source for data related to international education in France. The ministry publishes data on international enrollments every September in its publication Repères et Références Statistiques.

Definition of an International Student

‘Foreign students’ are defined as foreign nationals who travel to France for the purpose of study, or long-term or permanent residents in possession of French secondary qualifications and who likely have French residency status. Data thus include students who are long-term or permanent residents without French citizenship in France and overseas territories such as Guadeloupe, Reunion and Martinique (départements d’outre mer, or DOM).

The Ministry breaks down its statistics in the university sector to offer totals for those foreign students who applied to a French institution of higher education with a French high school qualification (non-mobile); however, it does not offer statistics for those applying to graduate studies with or without French first degrees.

Data & Sources

According to the OECD, France had an 8.2 percent share of the world’s 3 million internationally mobile students in 2007, which equals approximately 246,000 students. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics reported that there were a total of 246,600 international students in French tertiary education in 2007, or 8.8 percent of the 2.8 million internationally mobile students it estimates to be studying around the world.

Ministry figures show that there were a total of 265,710 foreign students in the tertiary system in 2006/07, representing 11.7 percent of total enrollments. Since 2007, enrollments have remained static with a total of 266,448 foreign students in 2008/09 (11.9 percent of total enrollments). In the university sector there were a total of 206,475 foreign students enrolled, of whom 78.8 percent did not hold a French high school qualification (baccalauréat), meaning that 162,702 of those were internationally mobile, or “international students”, as defined by the OECD.

In 2008, Morocco was the largest source country of foreign students (30,300 students and 5.7 percent more than 2006), followed by China (27,100, 20.8 percent increase on 2006), and Algeria (20,800, -7 percent). Regionally, the North African region of the Maghreb accounted for 26 percent of enrollments in 2008/09, non-Maghreb Africa 20 percent, Asia 24 percent, EU 18 percent, non-EU Europe 4 percent, and the Americas 18 percent.

The Atlas of Student Mobility cites the Ministry’s figure of 265,710 ‘foreign’ students for 2006/07, as reported by Campus France.


The primary source for international enrollment data in Japan is the government-backed Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO). The organization publishes data on international students in Japan towards the end of December annually.

Definition of an International Student

JASSO defines an ‘international student’ for its data collection purposes as a student from a foreign country who is receiving education at any Japanese university, graduate school, junior college, college of technology, professional training college or university preparatory courses and who resides in Japan with “college student” visa status, as defined in Annexed Table 1 of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act.

Data & Sources

According to the OECD, Japan had a 4.2 percent share of the global market of 3 million internationally mobile tertiary students in 2007, which equals approximately 126,000 students. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics reported that there were a total of 125,900 international students in Japanese institutions of higher education in 2007, or 4.5 percent of the 2.8 million internationally mobile students it estimates to be studying around the world.

The latest figures from Japan Student Services Organization, which include enrollments to May 2008, show that there were 123,829 international students in Japan, a 4.5 percent increase from the year prior. Japan’s five major source countries are all Asian, with a heavy majority coming from China (72,766), followed by Korea (18,862), Taiwan (5,082), Vietnam (2,873), and Malaysia (2,271). Over half of all students are studying at the undergraduate level (63,175), with 32,666 students at graduate school, and 25,753 at a professional training college.

Japan saw huge growth in international enrollments from a fairly constant average of approximately 50,000 students through the 1990s to the 120,000 level in 2004. Since 2004, international students numbers have remained close to 120,000. Asian nations have consistently been the main source of international enrollments, with much of the recent growth coming from a surge in the number of Chinese students attending Japanese institutions of higher education. While that number has dropped in recent years from a high of over 80,000 students in 2005, Chinese students are still by far Japan’s largest source of international enrollments.

Because Japan has one of the highest levels of tertiary education participation rates in the world, foreign students only represent approximately 3 percent of total tertiary enrollments. Japan has recently undertaken a number of initiatives aimed at increasing international enrollments with a goal initially stated at attracting one million foreign students to Japan by 2025. That goal has since been revised to a more realistic 300,000 students by 2020, after the initial targets were subjected to severe criticism from stakeholders in the Japanese higher-education sector.

Among the measures to attract students from overseas are increased English-language provision, more flexible credit-transfer systems and more funding for foreign scholars. Faced with a declining birth rate and a declining population of university-age students, these initiatives are designed, in part, to fill places at universities and colleges that might otherwise face closure.


China has been emerging in recent years as an increasingly popular study destination. While official data is hard to come by, a number of news reports based on government press releases, and additional data outlined below, reveal a picture of rapidly growing enrollments.

The government body tasked with tracking international student numbers is the China Scholarship Council, while the China Association of Science and Technology has also conducted studies related to China’s standing in the global market for international students.

It should be noted that a majority of international students in China are there on short courses in fields such as Chinese language, Chinese medicine and cultural immersion, while those on longer diploma and degree courses are much fewer. As most studies on comparative international enrollments look at the number of students in degree and diploma programs, China continues to rank lower than a lot of other destinations, despite a headline number that suggests it is emerging as a major tertiary study destination.

Definition of an International Student

An official definition could not be found.

Data & Sources

According to research conducted by the China Association of Science and Technology, China now ranks sixth in the global international student market. Citing government statistics, the study found that there were a total of 195,000 students from 188 countries and regions at more than 500 Chinese universities, colleges and research institutes in 2007. This compares with 141,000 students from 179 countries and regions in 2005.

According to data submitted to the Institute for International Education’s Atlas of Student Mobility by the China Scholarship Council, 57,367 of those students were studying at the undergraduate level, 10,846 at the graduate level, and 127,290 at the non-degree level. The top source countries were South Korea (33 percent), Japan (9.5 percent), United States (7.5 percent), Vietnam (5 percent), and Thailand (3.7 percent). By far the most popular field of study was the humanities (134,502), and presumably the vast majority of those studying in the humanities were studying on short-course Chinese language programs.

The OECD, which tabulates long-course program enrollments at the tertiary level, found that China had a 1.4 percent share of the 3 million students studying abroad in 2007, which equates to approximately 42,000 students. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics reported that China had a 1.5 percent share of the 2.8 million students it estimated to be internationally mobile in 2007, which translates to the same 42,000 number reported by the OECD.


While it is somewhat unclear which body is responsible for the collection of international enrollment data, the latest available data was made available in a speech by Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry, Lim Hng Kiang, in March. It is not exactly clear where the minister’s data comes from, but it is likely that the Economic Development Board (EDB) is ultimately responsible for the collation of international enrollment statistics in conjunction with Statistics Singapore and the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority.

Since 1997, the EDB has invited foreign institutions to establish programs or branch campuses in collaboration with domestic universities and colleges as part of its Global Schoolhouse initiative, designed to establish the country as a leading destination for international students. The EDB has set a goal of attracting 150,000 students by 2015, yet the availability of data related to that goal is difficult to find outside of news reports and media releases. However, it would appear safe to assume that the EDB has a central role in gathering such data.

Definition of an International Student

According to information on the Singapore International Graduate Award webpage, an “international student” is a student who is not a citizen or permanent resident of Singapore, and who has not previously studied in Singapore.

Data & Sources

On the basis of recent international enrollment numbers cited by Government officials, Singapore appears to own a 3.2 percent share of the global education market of 3 million students, as cited by the OECD. In the past six years it has become an increasingly popular education destination, growing from 50,000 international students in 2002 to approximately 97,000 students in 2008, an almost 100 percent increase.

Traditionally, nearly all of Singapore’s overseas enrollments have come from the neighboring countries of Indonesia and Malaysia, but since the EDB began promoting the city-state as an international education hub, and attracting globally recognized institutions of higher education, Singapore has been welcoming overseas nationals from increasingly diverse nations, citing a total of 120 in 2008.

Neither the OECD or the UNESCO Institute of Statistics reports data from Singapore. The Atlas of Student Mobility also omits Singapore from its data reporting.

Posted in Archive, Mobility Trends