Student Mobility in an Expanding Global Market: Potential Impacts on Your Campus

Student Mobility in an Expanding Global Market: Potential Impacts on Your Campus

Tadd Kruse
American University of Kuwait

Entering the new millennium and following the events of September 2001, the composition of higher education around the globe has seen significant growth and change. New opportunities for access to post-secondary learning continue to expand with the continual growth of institutions of higher learning, particularly in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.  Access for individuals to attain a quality education without leaving home is greater than ever before outside the United States, seeing increases in both foreign operated institutions and international branch campuses of universities.   The need for greater access to higher education and the means by which such access is administered have resulted in tremendous growth and unique shifts in how academic and student support services are delivered.

In the early weeks of 2014, a series of articles were reported in the University World News on the mobility of students to study internationally.  These articles highlighted some interesting data and trends that significantly impact institutions of higher education around the world. The mass movement of students will see nearly five million students around the globe pursuing coursework for degrees outside of their home country this year.  This number is staggering, especially when one notes that this figure is a 140% increase since the year 2000.  Understanding the mobility of students is important for campus communities in serving special student populations and in meeting commonplace initiatives related to multiculturalism, internationalization, and global citizenship.

It is important to recognize the top source countries as well as the top destination countries for international students as many campuses will likely have students attending from the top source countries, and students or programs in the top destination countries.  These are important factors to consider and means to acknowledge how each campus is influenced by student mobility. According to the article, and based on 2011 statistics, the top five source and destination countries are as follows:

Graph of Top 5 Source Countries

Graph of Top 5 Destination Countries

The top five destination countries hosted almost half of all international students, an important note for educators and student services professionals. The United States is still the top destination for international students since 2000, however this figure has decreased by more than 7%, illustrating one of the outcomes of higher education in a post-September 11th world.

Overall, overseas students comprise less than 4% of the 21 million students enrolled in higher education.  Despite the decrease in percentage in the United States from the global pool, and given the number of international students has doubled around the globe in the same period, the United States will see a record number of foreign students in 2014, an estimated 900,000.  The United States, as similar in many other western nations, has seen the enrollment of Chinese students significantly increase, reaching almost 30% of all international students in United States.  Students from India, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia are among the most numerous source countries following China.

Conversely, last year the United States saw 285,000 students pursue academic coursework abroad, a small increase.  The top five destinations for American students in rank order were the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France, and China.  Other notables were Germany, Australia, Costa Rica, Ireland and Japan.  The largest increases were seen in China and Latin American countries.

As stated previously, nearly five million international students will influence the diversity, and in a large part, the identity of college campuses globally this year.  The United States alone will be influenced by almost 1.2 million students participating in overseas studies when you combine foreign students studying in the United States and American students who study overseas.

Additionally, it is important to recognize when reviewing figures of student mobility that reports will often differ due to definitions of mobility, data completeness, lack of systematic central data collection, and most significantly the availability of data.  Understanding imbalances in reporting are important to note, and in some instances the figures can differ drastically.   Systems and definitive data are not in place to address the many complex issues surrounding mobility on a global level, but one should look at the bigger picture and make connections from the general figures and trends to one’s own institution and campus community.  Adjusting one’s scope and finding the commonalities in the data shared will provide a context for understanding and growth that may be useful and meaningful on campus.

Potential Impact and Application on your Campus

Higher education prides itself in promoting diversity, cultural awareness, and particularly in recent years, global citizenship.  The flow of students on an international scale, and changing trends impact both large and small campuses alike.  Higher education in the global market is being forced to evolve at a rate in which student services on many campuses may or may not be keeping up.  Each institution has a unique sub-culture and student population represented, impacting the overall campus environment and how student services are aligned.  As a result every institution has a varying degree of commitment to diversity or internationalization, both in vision and practice, which are effected by the institutional type, campus size, campus location, culture, and nation of origin among others.

The best means to support students is to be aware of student mobility and how both the diversity of the student body, and international programs and services may directly or indirectly impact programs and services.  These both influence the overall institution, and many times may exist in academic or other units from whom student services may not normally interact. Awareness is essential so that one can engage in opportunities and help to build bridges that enhance student services and the overall student experience.

Several factors to keep in mind when considering how student mobility may impact your institution and the preparedness of student services are listed below:

Cultural Adaptation

Recognizing the various cultural differences and challenges as well as preparing to make adjustments in both directions in order to meet institutional requirements along with reasonably accommodating international student shifts from cultural norms (Example: helping to meet special eating requirements for Muslim students, especially during the Holy Month of Ramadan).

Student Housing

Providing student housing with an understanding and preparedness to accommodate special needs regarding cultural matters pertaining to gender, hygiene, food, religious beliefs, space, etc. (Example: providing housing opportunities to support students from cultures that are more conservative than others in regards to gender).

Special Populations (Large Groups)

Catering to large populations of foreign students, especially if they come from a single country, to meet special large group or program needs but doing so without allowing the group to become isolated (Example: providing support for the needs of a large student group represented on campus, Chinese students for instance, without inherently creating/enabling a means to isolate these students from the greater campus community).

International Admissions

Understanding admission target regions or populations and the recruitment objectives related to international admission, acknowledging that objectives may shift from year to year but are often driven by existing academic programs and global markets (Example: STEM-related fields are popular among potential students in many Asian countries, thus driving admission practice)

International Programs

Recognizing the overseas programs and ways that students and faculty participate in foreign studies and research is an important component, often overlooked, of how a campus is influenced (Example: a campus has an overseas study abroad campus maintained by the institution, resulting in a significant number of faculty and students participating in that program over others).

Special Programs or Initiatives (Scholarships, exchanges, partnerships, etc.)

Identifying scholarship programs or other financial support, as well as exchange or partnership agreements, can drive the opportunities or objectives of an institution and equally impact several of the other factors listed here (Example: foreign governments establish scholarship programs to send students overseas to pursue degrees in certain countries, at partnered institutions, or in specified fields of study).

Global Events

Being aware of international, and domestic, activities and events that impact students on campus can significantly shift the short-term and long-term feasibility of special population enrollments, programs, and services (Example: natural disasters, political unrest, economic developments, etc.).


Remember that influences and impacts on campus from student mobility, diversity, and international programs can present themselves in differing forms.  Sometimes it is as simple as changing an approach or perspective towards providing a service, such as housing, from providing living quarters to making it a truly unique living/learning environment.  Equally, it may require seeking out an understanding of new or existing initiatives and finding ways to partner with other units to create a mutually beneficial opportunity.

As a new academic year approaches, now is an excellent time to reflect on your own institutional make-up, culture, and multiculturalism on campus.  Consider the driving forces behind each, the factors that impact your institution, and attempt to understand how student mobility and international programs influence your institution.

Discussion Questions

  1. How has your campus been impacted in recent years, and over the past decade, from student mobility related to international students and international programs?
  2. Has your campus adjusted programs and resources to meet the cultural needs of international and domestic students and those of the campus community at large? If not, what areas need greater attention?
  3. What opportunities exist on your campus: (a) to maximize potential impacts of student mobility and international programs? (b) to improve student services to special populations?

About the Author

Tadd Kruse serves as Assistant to the President for Institutional Planning and Effectiveness at the American University of Kuwait (AUK).  Having worked at institutions in the US, UK, and in the Middle East, Tadd has spent more than a decade of his fifteen years of experience in higher education working abroad. His global experiences include international student housing, study abroad, exchange programs, in addition to his co-founding and continued oversight of the Student Affairs Graduate Summer Internship Program at AUK.  Tadd has also served as Senior Student Affairs Officer, founded a department (Office of Student Life) at a start-up institution, and worked in a variety of professional fields within Student Affairs.

Please e-mail inquiries to Tadd Kruse.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

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