International Mobility Data Sources

By Nick Clark, Editor World Education News & Reviews

The number of students crossing international borders to attend institutions of higher education has grown significantly in the last few decades, as have the number of reports that track those trends, both at the national level and at regional and international levels.

Given that our work at World Education Services is focused primarily on the evaluation of foreign academic credentials, we monitor these trends closely and have written extensively on the subject. In this article, we offer links to mobility-related coverage from the WENR archives [1], in addition to useful mobility-related data sources from governments and organizations around the world.

Global Mobility

There are two widely cited sources related to the global movement of students and academics across international borders.

The first, compiled annually by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics [2] (UIS), looks at a range of educational indicators, of which international mobility is just one. The current (2010) edition of the Global Education Digest [3] has a focus on gender related education indicators, the 2008 edition [4] contained time series data for selected primary, secondary and tertiary education indicators, while the 2009 edition [5] focused on global mobility trends in higher education at a time when an estimated 2.8 million students were considered internationally mobile.

The UIS data relates mainly to findings from 62 countries, including those 16 countries that are members of the UNESCO World Education Indicators [6] (WEI) program and the combined UOE data collection efforts of UNESCO, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the European statistics agency, Eurostat. The WEI and UOE datasets offer more detailed information on cross-national comparisons of tertiary education programs, as well as on the sources and flows of tertiary education funding. Perhaps the most useful dataset from the UOE collection for those tracking mobility trends is this one [7] that shows the number of international students enrolled in each of 31 OECD countries.

All data, in addition to customizable tables and rankings are available from the UIS Data Centre [8].

The Organization for Economic Cooperation also produces an annual report focused on education-related global trends derived from education indicators. Although the Education at a Glance report focuses primarily on the education systems of 31 industrialized member nations and five partner countries, it does also provide broader data on international education mobility.

Much of the data from the UIS and OECD reports are shared, so the findings tend to be similar, although never exactly the same and rarely focused on the same issues year to year. Interestingly, the OECD estimate for the number of globally mobile students tends to come in a little higher than the UIS’ estimate (3 million versus 2.8 million in 2007) despite pulling from essentially the same sources.

Both the OECD and UIS reports offer extensive indicators for primary and secondary schooling, in addition to adult literacy, but additional indictors are also available from the annual Millennium Development Goals report and the Education for All [9] (EFA) report, both derived from the UN programs of the same names. Given the goals of the two programs, the focus of the reports and statistics is primarily on the education systems of developing nations.

The recently released EFA report (March 2011), The hidden crisis: Armed conflict and education, examines the impact of violent conflict on education and its negative impacts on short-term and long-term educational attainment and literacy.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDG), adopted by world leaders in the year 2000 and set to be achieved by 2015, provide quantifiable benchmarks for tackling extreme poverty, the second of which is achieving universal primary education (UPE). The September 2010 Summit marked the tenth anniversary of the MDGs. The accompanying report [10] contains statistics and analysis for each of the eight goals, concluding that for the goal of UPE, ‘hope dims.’ While enrollment continues to expand worldwide, there were still an estimated 69 million children of primary school who were still out of school in 2008. Three-quarters of those children lived in sub-Saharan Africa (31 million) and Southern Asia (18 million).

While not a measure of student mobility, the OECD’s tri-annual Programme for International Student Assessment [11] (PISA) survey and report offers some comparative insight into which industrialized nations are educating their young citizens most effectively. The last survey [12] was conducted in 2009, with the results being published in December 2010.

From the WENR Archives:

Select Mobility Data by Nation


Australia Education International (AEI), a division of the Department of Education Science and Training, is the government body responsible for most facets of international academic activity into and out of Australia. This includes the tabulation of academic mobility statistics, with datasets on international enrollments provided both monthly and annually.

Domestic data related to higher education [23] is available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics [24]. The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [25] also tabulates enrollment data at the higher education level [26]. Current releases from the Department are available here [27], including a Full Year Student Summary [28] that tabulates international enrollments in addition to domestic enrollments.

From the WENR Archives:Lowe, Sophia. “Learning from Australia’s Education Export Model.” Vol 23, #6 (July/August 2009) [29]


Statistics Canada [30] receives data directly from the nation’s public universities and colleges through the Postsecondary Student Information System [31] and is the lead agency for reporting international enrollment data [32]. However, there are a number of other sources that also report statistics related to international student numbers.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada [33] (CIC) provides statistics [34] on student visa issuances, in addition to the number of entries and re-entries.

The Canadian Bureau for International Education [35] (CBIE) issues a report, Canada First: The Survey of International Students [36], every five years (latest one in 2009).

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada [37] issues an annual report, Value of a Degree in a Global Marketplace, that references data from Statistics Canada related to international enrollments.

From the WENR Archives:


The Chinese Ministry of Education [43] reports annually on international student enrollments. The most recent news release [44], reporting on data from calendar year 2010, was issued in March 2011 and showed that a record 265,090 international students were attending Chinese institutions of higher education [45].

From the WENR Archives:


The French Ministry of Education [49] publishes annual foreign student enrollment data through the Repères et Références Statistiques [50]. The 2010 edition shows a total overseas enrollment at the higher education level [51] (2009/10) of 278,213.


The German Academic Exchange Service [52] (DAAD) and the Higher Education Information System [53] jointly publish the annual report Wissenschaft Weltoffen [54] which is the definitive source on foreign enrollment data. The latest figures [55] (2008/09) show a total enrollment of 239,143.

A compendium of international statistics and survey results is also produced every three years by the German Ministry for Education and Research [56] on behalf of the National Association of Student Services Organizations. The latest issue [57] of the publication, Internationalization of Higher EducationForeign Students in GermanyGerman Students Abroad, was published in 2010 and is based on data and survey responses collected in summer 2008. The statistical data is derived from a number of different sources including the OECD, HIS and Wissenschaft Weltoffen.


The Association of Indian Universities [58] publishes an annual report documenting international enrollment numbers, the last of which [59] (at the time of writing) was published in 2009 for academic year 2007/08. According to that report there were just 21,206 foreign students studying in India.

From the WENR Archives:


The Japan Student Services Organization [65] has, since 1985, issued annual international-enrollment reports [66]. According to the latest report [67] (2010) the international student body was up 6.8 percent in 2010 to a total of 141,774. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) issues an annual report [68] on domestic enrollments.

From the WENR Archives:Ohmori, Fujio. “Japan and Transnational Higher Education.” Volume 18, # 3 (May-June 2005) [69]


The Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education [70] publishes an annual statistical report, which includes data for ‘non-citizen’ enrollments. In 2010, that number was pegged at 86,923, with more than 64,000 studying at private institutions of higher education.

New Zealand

The government of New Zealand is responsible for the collection and dissemination of statistics related to international-student enrollments. Data are gathered in collaboration with institutions of education and various government ministries, including public data released by the Ministry of Education [71], Statistics New Zealand [72], and the Immigration Service of the Department of Labour [73]. International enrollment data is made available through the Ministry of Education’s Education Counts [74] website.

The Ministry’s data on international enrollments within public and private tertiary education institutions summarizes those students enrolled at any time during the year in formal qualifications of more than a week in duration at public tertiary educational institutions and private providers that receive Ministry of Education funding, or that enrolled students in receipt of student loans or student allowances.

The Immigration Service [75] of the Department of Labour [76] publishes monthly updates [77], in addition to an annual update [78], on the numbers of approved applications for student visas and permits.


Precise figures for Singapore are hard to come by, but according to visas issuance numbers from the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority [79], the number of foreign students in Singapore dropped by 4,000 in 2010 to 91,500. Singapore has a goal of establishing itself at a ‘Global Schoolhouse [80],’ enrolling 150,000 foreign students by 2015.

United Kingdom

The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) [81] is the primary organization responsible for international student data collection and dissemination. The statistics agency reports annually, by academic year, through its Students in Higher Education Institutions [82] publication.

The University and College Admissions Service [83] (UCAS) releases annual application and admission data for domestic and international [84] students, in addition to more detailed datasets [85].

United States

The Institute for International Education [86]’s Open Doors report [87] is the primary source of information on international student numbers in higher education the United States.

The National Center for Education Statistics [88] (NCES) also offers data on enrollments [89] of ‘non-resident aliens,’ which in the fall of 2009 [90] (last available) totaled 684,800.

For data specific to graduate enrollments, the Council of Graduate Schools [91] (CGS) conducts a three-part survey annually (since 2004) to take stock of percentage growth in international applications, admissions and enrollments at U.S. graduate schools.

From the WENR Archives:

Regional Mobility

Statistics on European academic mobility tend to be focused on intra-European mobility. The European Commission’s statistics arm, Eurostat [96], tracks education statistics and indicators among many other things. Inflow data are available here [97], while outflow numbers are here [98]. Eurydice [99], a branch of the European Commission’s Executive Agency for Education, Audiovisual and Culture, compiles periodic reports on education-related data, which it calls Key Data on Education [100]. The EU’s Erasmus [101] mobility program also offers useful intra-European statistics [102].

Statistics for the African region tend to be hard to come by, but the African Development Bank [103] has begun collating some [104] data [104]. For more detailed information, the EFA and MDG reports referenced above are likely more useful. The World Bank also compiles education data [105], but it is largely drawn from the UIS and OECD statistics already referenced.

From the WENR Archives: