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Trump Could Impact Influx of Student Talent


American higher education institutions are more dependent on China (328,547 total students) and India (165,918 total students), Choudaha says, with the two populations making up 47% of all international higher-education seekers in the U.S. Compare that to British institutions: 91,215 Chinese and 16,745 Indians, respectively, or 35% of total international students in higher ed.

While the U.K. has an advantage over the U.S. in attracting international students from Nigeria, Malaysia, and Hong Kong, Choudaha says, the Indian market’s scale and growth potential is too huge to underestimate. Primarily concentrated in master’s and particularly STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs, Indians are “value-seekers,” he says, and for the last five years they’ve seen the U.S. as a better value destination.

“In the context of changes that are happening, the U.K. is going through a very tough time the last couple of years because of the decline in Indian numbers,” Choudaha says, “but then this Brexit shock was just a final blow, given that the British and U.S. higher education systems are very highly dependent on international students. This was a very negative event for British universities.”

Brexit is likely to hurt enrollment for master’s programs for non-EU international students and undergraduate programs for EU students, Choudaha says, despite the high quality and reliable reputation of the U.K. higher-education system. That’s the effect unwelcoming immigration policies have on the influx of talent. After Brexit, a likely destination for that talent was the United States.


Then along came Trump. “Now,” Choudaha says, “the U.K. may look a little more attractive than it was earlier.” If not the Britain, then Canada and Australia, or continental Europe or Asia-Pacific institutions could benefit from a major student mobility shift.

Even the good news for the U.S. comes with caveats. Three of its four top source countries — China, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia — are witnessing a slower rate of growth, Choudaha says, with India the only market among the top four seeing double-digit growth. That means students from the “feeder” countries U.S. schools now rely on could soon opt to stay home or closer to home in larger numbers.

“This is now the admissions cycle, and a majority of schools have already accepted applications for the top schools,” Choudaha notes. “But at many others, at the public universities they will continue to accept applications until March, April … and there is that kind of uncertainty and a little bit of anxiety about what all this will mean for international students.

“If you look at the undergraduate level, countries like China are highly dominant in the bachelor’s-level programs, and many of them are female students. Just the perceptions of safety, security, campus experiences, all those things can just make it more difficult for parents to think of the U.S. as a destination.”

“So there are differences by level and by country, but overall in the immediate short-term that uncertainty is not good for the U.S. as a destination.”