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International students in Liechtenstein

Foreign students are those who travel to a country different from their own for the purpose of tertiary study.[1]


National definitionsEdit

The definition of "foreign student" varies in each country in accordance to their own national education system.[2]

In Australia, foreign students are defined as those studying onshore only with visa subclasses 570 to 575, excluding students on Australian-funded scholarships or sponsorship or students undertaking study while in possession of other temporary visas.[3] New Zealand citizens do not require a visa to study in Australia, so are not classed as international students.

In Japan, foreign students are defined as foreign nationals who study at any Japanese university, graduate school, junior college, college of technology, professional training college or university preparatory course on a ‘college student’ visa, as defined by the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act.[3]

Destinations of foreign studentsEdit

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in their 2009 World Conference on Higher Education report, Over 2.5 million students were studying outside their home country. UNESCO also predicted that the number of foreign students might rise to approximately 7 million by the year 2020. The main destinations preferred were the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Canada and Australia. Overall, the number of foreign students more than doubled to over 2 million between 2000 and 2007.[4]

However the sharpest percentage increases of foreign students have occurred in New Zealand, Korea, the Netherlands, Greece, Spain, Italy and Ireland.[4]

Traditionally the U.S and U.K have been the most prestigious choices, due to dominating university top 10 rankings with the likes of Harvard, Oxford, MIT and Cambridge. More recently however they have had to compete with the rapidly growing Asian higher education market. While US is the leading destination for foreign students, there is increasing competition from several destinations in East Asia such as China, Korea, Japan and Taiwan which are keen on attracting foreign students for reputation and demographic reasons.[5]

Student mobility in the first decade of the 21st century has been transformed by two major external events, the events of 9/11 and the recession of 2008.[6] 9/11 forced US to tighten visa requirements for students and Australia and the UK cashed in on this opportunity and were successful in absorbing most of the growth in foreign students. The growth story for Australia and the UK would have continued, but the recession of 2008 exposed two aspects of international student enrollment in these countries—unmanageable high proportion of foreign students compared to home students and issues of quality raised by the use of aggressive recruitment practices.[7] In 2009, international students represented 21.5% and 15.3% of higher education enrollment in Australia and the UK, compared to less than 4% in the US, according to the OECD.[8]

According to OECD, almost one out of five foreign students is regionally mobile. This segment of regionally mobile students who seek global education at local cost is defined as "glocal" students. Many "glocal" students consider pursuing transnational or cross-border education which allows them to earn a foreign credential while staying in their home countries.[9]

In recent years, some Asian and Middle East countries have started to attract more foreign students. These regions have entered the market with declared ambitions to become regional education centers by attracting as many as several hundred thousand foreign students to their countries.[3]

A recent report projects that the number of internationally mobile students will reach 6.9 million by 2030—an increase of 51%, or 2.3 million students, from 2015.[10]

Popular destinationsEdit

Top 10 countries for foreign student enrollment

Rank Destination country Total number of foreign students
1   United States 1,043,839
2   United Kingdom 496,690
3   China 489,200 [11]
4   Canada 370,975 [12]
5   France 309,642
6   Australia 292,352
7   Russia 282,921 [13]
8   Germany 235,858
9   Japan 152,062
10   Northern Cyprus 79,673 [14]


Annually around 750,000 Chinese and 400,000 Indian students apply to overseas higher education institutions in the USA.[15][16] New enrollment of undergraduate and graduate foreign students at American universities and colleges for 2016-17 declined by 2.1% or nearly 5,000 students which translates into a potential revenue of US$125 million for the first year of studies alone.[17] Much of the increase in foreign students in the U.S. during 2013–2014 was fueled by undergraduate students from China, the report's authors found. The number of Chinese students increased to 31 percent of all foreign students in the U.S. – the highest concentration the top country of origin has had since IIE began producing the report in 1948. [1] This is changing quickly with demographic projections showing a large impending decrease in volumes of students from China and Russia and steady increases in students from India and Africa. The number of foreign students in tertiary (university or college) education is also rapidly increasing as higher education becomes an increasingly global venture.[18] During 2014-15, 974,926 foreign students came to study in the U.S, which is almost double the population from 2005. Chinese students have always been the largest demographic amongst foreign students. The top 10 sending places of origin and percentage of total foreign student enrollment are: China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Brazil, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, and Mexico. The total number of foreign students from all places of origin by field of study are: Business/Management, Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Sciences, Social Sciences, Physical and Life Sciences, Humanities, Fine and Applied Arts, Health Professions, Education, and Agriculture.[19]

Top 10 sending places of origin and percentage of total foreign student enrollment 2015-2016

Rank Place of Origin Number of Students Percent of Total
1 China 328,547 31.5%
2 India 165,918 15.9%
3 Saudi Arabia 61,287 5.9%
4 South Korea 61,007 5.8%
5 Canada 26,973 2.6%
6 Vietnam 21,403 2.1%
7 Taiwan 21,127 2.0%
8 Brazil 19,370 1.9%
9 Japan 19,060 1.8%
10 Mexico 16,733 1.6%

Total number of foreign students from all places of origin by field of study 2015-2016

Rank Field of Study Number of Students Percent of Total
1 Business and Management 200,312 19.2%
2 Engineering 216,932 20.8%
3 Other/Unspecified Subject Areas 185,107 17.7%
4 Mathematics and Computer Sciences 141,651 13.6%
5 Social Sciences 81,304 7.8%
6 Physical and Life Sciences 75,385 7.2%
7 Humanities 17,664 1.7%
8 Fine and Applied Arts 59,736 5.7%
9 Health Professions 33,947 3.3%
10 Education 19,483 1.9%
11 Agriculture 12,318 1.2%

The number of US visas issued to Chinese students to study at US universities has increased by 30 per cent, from more than 98,000 in 2009 to nearly 128,000 in October 2010, placing China as the top country of origin for foreign students, according to the "2010 Open Doors Report" published on the US Embassy in China website. The number of Chinese students increased. Overall, the total number of foreign students with a US Visa to study at colleges and universities increased by 3 per cent to a record high of nearly 691,000 in the 2009/2010 academic year. The 30 per cent increase in Chinese student enrolment was the main contributor to this year's growth, and now Chinese students account for more than 18 percent of the total foreign students.[20]


In 2017, China was the third largest receiver of international students globally, with 489,200 international students.[21][22]

Numbers and growthEdit

International Students in China (2003-2017)

The number of international students in China has grown steadily since 2003, with apparently no impact from the rise of terrorism or the 2008 global financial crisis. In contrast to the reported decline of enrollments in the USA[23] and the UK,[24] China's international student market continues to strengthen. China is now the leading destination globally for Anglophone African students.[25]

By sending continentEdit
Number of international students in China (2016) by sending continent.
Yearly increase of international students coming to China by continent (2015-2016).

In 2016, the students coming to China were mostly from Asia (60%), followed by Europe (16%) and Africa (14%). However, Africa had the highest growth rate at 23.7% year-on-year 2015-2016.[21]

By sending countryEdit
Top 15 Countries Sending International Students to China (2016)

The top 15 countries sending countries to China in 2016 are listed below. African countries are grouped together and show a considerable block of students.[21][22]

Rank Country Number of Students Percent of Total 2017 rank
1   South Korea 70,540 15.93% 1
- All African countries grouped together 61,594 13.91%
2   United States 23,838 5.38% 4
3   Thailand 23,044 5.20% 2
4   India 18,717 4.23% 5
5   Pakistan 18,626 4.21% 3
6   Russia 17,971 4.06% 6
7   Indonesia 14,714 3.32% 8
8   Kazakhstan 13,996 3.16% 9
9   Japan 13,595 3.07% 7
10   Vietnam 10,639 2.40%
11   France 10,414 2.35%
12   Laos 9,907 2.24% 10
13   Mongolia 8,508 1.92%
14   Germany 8,145 1.84%
15   Malaysia 6,880 1.55%
Where in China they areEdit
International Students in China by Province (2016)

In 2016, international students mostly went to study in the major centers of Beijing (77,234, 17.44%) and Shanghai (59,887, 13.53%). In recent years there has been a decentralization and dispersion of students to other provinces.

Reasons for coming to ChinaEdit

Various factors combine to make China a very desirable destination for international students.

  1. China boasts a significant number of world-class universities.[26]
  2. Universities in China are attractive research centers.[27]
  3. It costs relatively less than studying in developed countries.[28]
  4. There is a huge diversity of universities and programs.[28]
  5. There are more career opportunities due to China's growing economic strength.[28]
  6. Many graduate and postgraduate programs are offered in English.
  7. A huge number of scholarships (49,022 in 2016) are on offer from the Chinese government.[21]

China is openly pursuing a policy of growing its soft power globally, by way of persuasion and attraction. Attracting international students, especially by way of scholarships, is one effective way of growing this influence.[29][30]

Issues faced by these studentsEdit

Until recently Chinese culture has been largely homogeneous, consisting of the Han Chinese (92%) majority and 55 other ethnic minorities. Culturally this means that Chinese are not familiar with the same multiculturalism that western countries have experienced for much longer. The result is that it is extremely hard for an international student to culturally integrate and make deep Chinese friendships. Chinese also feel strong language and culture barriers and the fear of relating to the "other." African students have sometimes reported experiencing racism toward them, and recently a Chinese TV gala production drew criticism for this.[31]

Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are the two most popular messaging apps worldwide,[32] and international students rely on these for a sense of connection back home. These services are both blocked by China's internet censorship policy, effectively isolating students from friends, families and home-country communities.[33]

Wherever they are, international students experience tremendous time, academic and financial pressures. Combined with the cultural and technical issues named above, this produces a range of mental health issues. Depression is widespread. International students in the West often have access to mental health services (including quality psychiatric care), but in China, this is either non-existent or prohibitively expensive.

Prior to coming to China, there is often a perception amongst international students that religion is illegal and there are no faith communities or churches. This misperception combined with fear further isolates students from integrating into faith communities.

One of the greatest challenges is living—and often studying—in Mandarin Chinese. Many students arrive in China with no knowledge of the language and receive one or perhaps two years of Chinese language learning. They then must pass the HSK exam at a certain level before going on to undergraduate, graduate or postgraduate studies in Chinese. This is incredibly stressful and places a huge burden on students. It's not uncommon for their language studies to have taught them every-day phrases and vocabulary while leaving untaught the technical language of engineering or politics.

Others arrive for an English-based program, receive a few hours per week of Chinese for a semester, then continue with their (often) post-graduate research. While technically these students do not need Chinese for their studies, in practice they cannot adequately communicate with their peers or supervisors, nor can they operate comfortably in the Chinese society around them. This leads to frustration and isolation.

Germany and FranceEdit

In 2006, with approximately 20% of the world's foreign students, or 515,000 out of the 2.7 million students studying outside their countries, Germany and France are best understood as secondary higher education destinations.[3]

With the Franco-German University, the two countries have established a framework for cooperation between their universities, enabling students to participate in specific Franco-German courses of study across borders.[34]

Japan, Canada and New ZealandEdit

Japan, Canada and New Zealand are perceived as evolving destinations for international students. In 2006, Japan, Canada and New Zealand together shared roughly 13% of the international student market, with approximately 327,000 of the 2.7 million students who traveled abroad for the purposes of higher education.[3] Japan has around 180 000 overseas students studying at its institutions and the government has set targets to increase this to 300, 000 over the next few years.[35] Canada has seen a large increase in the number of Indian students, where the number of Indian students rose 280% in 2010 compared to 2008.[36] Organizations such as Learnhub are taking advantage of this growing trend of Indian international students by providing recruitment services that bring Indian students abroad.[37] In 2012, in Canada 10 percent of university students were international students.[38] Canada accepted more than 100,000 international students for the first time,[39] bringing the total number of international students in Canada to 260,000,[40] which is nearly identical to that of Australia's 280,000. Recent changes to Canada's immigration regulations that came into effect on January 1, 2015 have placed international graduates from Canadian universities at a disadvantage. Under the new rules, foreign students who hold a degree or diploma from Canadian educational institutions will be treated on par with other groups of skilled workers.[41]

Malaysia, Singapore and IndiaEdit

Malaysia, Singapore and India are the emerging destinations for international students. These three countries have combined share of approximately 12% of the global student market with somewhere between 250,000 and 300,000 students having decided to pursue higher education studies in these countries in 2005–2006.[3]

The flow of international students above indicates the South-North phenomenon. In this sense, students from Asia prefer to pursue their study particularly in the United States.

The recent statistics on mobility of international students can be found in;

  • The 2009 Global Education Digest (GED)[42] by UNESCO
  • International Flows of Mobile Students at the Tertiary Level[43] by UNESCO
  • Empowering People to Innovate - International Mobility[44] by OECD.


Prospective foreign students are usually required to sit for language tests, such as Cambridge English: First,[45] Cambridge English: Advanced,[46] Cambridge English: Proficiency,[47] IELTS,[48] TOEFL,[49] iTEP,[50] PTE Academic,[51] DELF[52] or DELE,[53] before they are admitted. Tests notwithstanding, while some international students already possess an excellent command of the local language upon arrival, some find their language ability, considered excellent domestically, inadequate for the purpose of understanding lectures, and/or of conveying oneself fluently in rapid conversations. A research report commissioned by NAFSA: Association of International Educators investigated the scope of third-party providers offerings intensive English preparation programs with academic credit for international students in the United States.[54] These pathway programs are designed to recruit and support international students needing additional help with English and academic preparation before matriculating to a degree program.

Student VisaEdit

Generally, foreign students as citizens of other countries are required to obtain a student visa, which ascertains their legal status for staying in the second country.[55] In the United States, before students come to the country, the students must select a school to attend to qualify for a student visa. The course of study and the type of school a foreign student plans to attend determine whether an F-1 visa or an M-1 visa is needed. Each student visa applicant must prove they have the financial ability to pay for their tuition, books and living expenses while they study in the states.[56]

Economic impactEdit

Research from the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers (NAFSA) shows the economic benefits of the increasing international higher-education enrollment in the United States. According to their 2013-2014 academic year analysis, international students have contributed $26.8 billion to the U.S economy and 340,000 jobs. This is almost a 12% increase in dollars added to the economy and an 8.5% increase associated with job support and creation compared to the previous year. International students contribute more than job and monetary gains to the economy. NAFSA Executive Director and CEO Marlene M. Johnson has stated, "[international students] bring global perspectives into U.S. classrooms and research labs, and support U.S. innovation through science and engineering coursework."[57] According to NAFSA's research, their diverse views contribute to technological innovation has increased America's ability to compete in the global economy.

Higher education marketingEdit

Marketing of higher education is a well-entrenched macro process today, especially in the major English-speaking nations i.e. Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the USA. One of the major factors behind the worldwide evolution of educational marketing could be a result of globalization, which has dramatically shriveled the world. Due to intensifying competition for overseas students amongst MESDCs, i.e. major English-speaking destination countries, higher educational institutions recognize the significance of marketing themselves, in the international arena.[58] To build sustainable international student recruitment strategies Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) need to diversify the markets from which they recruit, both to take advantage of future growth potential from emerging markets, and to reduce dependency on – and exposure to risk from – major markets such as China, India and Nigeria, where demand has proven to be volatile.[59] For recruitment strategies, there are some approaches that higher education institutions adopt to ensure stable enrollments of international students, such as developing university preparation programs, like the Global Assessment Certificate (GAC) Program, and launching international branch campuses in foreign countries.

Global Assessment Certificate (GAC) ProgramEdit

The Global Assessment Certification (GAC) Program is a university preparation program, developed and provided by ACT Education Solution, Ltd., for the purpose of helping students to prepare for admission and enrolment overseas.[19] Moreover, the program helps students from non-English speaking backgrounds to prepare for university-level study, so they are able to successfully finish a bachelor's degree at university. This program is primarily getting great attention from non-English-speaking countries like China and South Korea. Students who complete the GAC program have the opportunity to be admitted to 120 universities, so called Pathway Universities, located in popular destinations including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada.[60] Mainly, the program consists of curriculums, such as Academic English, Mathematics, Computing, Study Skills, Business, Science and Social Science. Moreover, the program also provides the opportunity to get prepared for the ACT exam and English Proficiency tests like TOEFL and IELTS.[61]

Foreign branch campusesEdit

International branch campus is a new strategy of recruiting foreign students in other countries in order to build strong global outreach by overcoming the limitations of physical distance. Indeed, opening branch campuses play a significant role of widening the landscape of the higher education. In the past, along with high demand for higher education, many universities in the United States established their branch campuses in foreign countries.[62] According to a report by the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education (OBHE), there was a 43% increase in the number of foreign branch campuses in the worldwide scale since 2006. American higher education institutions mostly take a dominant position in growth rate and the number of foreign branch campuses, accounting for almost 50 percent of current foreign branch campuses.[63] However, some research reports that recently said foreign branching campuses are facing several challenges and setbacks, for example interference of local government,[64] sustainability problems, and long-term prospects like damage on academic reputations and finance.

The challenges for foreign students in English-speaking countriesEdit

There is a trend for more and more students to go abroad to study in the U.S., Canada, U.K., and Australia to gain a broader education.[citation needed] English is the only common language spoken at universities in these countries, with the most significant exception being Francophone universities in Canada. International students not only need to acquire good communication skills and fluent English both in writing and speaking, but also absorb the Western academic writing culture in style, structure, reference, and the local policy toward academic integrity in academic writing.[65] International students may have difficulty completing satisfactory assignments because of the difficulty with grammar and spelling, differences in culture, or a lack of confidence in English academic writing. Insightful opinions may lose the original meaning when transformed from the student's native language to English. Even if international students acquire good scores in English proficiency exams or are able to communicate with native British students frequently in class, they often find that the wording and formatting of academic papers in English-speaking universities are different from what they are used to due to certain cultural abstraction. Students who experience this discrepancy get lower scores of adaptability to new environment and higher scores about anxiety. Instead of the mood, students who were further away from home would be more willing to go back home and regress from their aims in life, this hardship can lead to depression. Partly this is due to the academic contagions of the foreign university like not integrating contrastive rhetoric aspect, low-support for adaptation like providing opportunities to better their English in a non-competitive and meaningful way. [66]

Most foreign students encounter difficulties in language use. Such issues make it difficult for the student to make domestic friends and gain familiarity with the local culture. Sometimes, these language barriers can subject international students to ignorance or disrespect from native speakers.[67] Most international students are also lacking a support groups in the country they are studying. Although all the colleges in North America, that are in a student exchange programs, do have International Student Office, it sometimes does not have resources and capability to consider their students' individual needs when it comes to adapting the new environment. The more a particular college has students coming from the same country the better the support is for getting involved to the new culture.[68]

Foreign students have several challenges in their academic studies at North American universities. Studies have shown that these challenges include several different factors: inadequate English proficiency; unfamiliarity with North American culture; lack of appropriate study skills or strategies; academic learning anxiety; low social self-efficacy; financial difficulties; and separation from family and friends.[69] Despite the general perception that American culture is characterized more by diversity than by homogeneity, the American ideology of cultural homogeneity implies an American mindset that because Eurocentric cultures are superior to others, people with different cultures should conform to the dominant monocultural canon and norms.[70]

U.S. colleges and universities have long welcomed students from China, where their higher-education system cannot meet the demand. Three years ago, a record 10 million students throughout China took the national college entrance test, competing for 5.7 million university slots. Because foreign undergraduates typically fail to qualify for U.S. federal aid, colleges here can provide limited financial help. Now, thanks to China's booming economy in recent years, more Chinese families can afford to pay. U.S. colleges also face challenges abroad. Worries about fraud on test scores and transcripts make occasional headlines. And even Chinese students who test high on an English-language proficiency test may not be able to speak or write well enough to stay up to speed in a U.S. classroom, where essay writing and discussions are common.[71] Chinese international students face other challenges besides language proficiency. The Chinese educational structure focuses on exam-oriented education, with educational thinking and activities aimed towards meeting the entrance examination. Students stress more on exam performance, and teachers are inclined to focus on lecturing to teach students what may be on the test. In addition, "parents are also convinced that the more students listened to the lectures, the better they would score on the finals."[72] With more than 304,040 Chinese students enrolled in the US in 2014/15, China is by far the leading source of international students at American universities and colleges, however, there are three waves of growth in Chinese students in the US. Each of the three waves differs in terms of needs and expectations and corresponding support services needed. Unfortunately, many higher education institutions have not adapted to the changing needs.[73] It is no surprise that many Chinese students are now questioning if it is worth investing in studying abroad.[74]

International students also face cross-cultural barriers that hinder their ability to succeed in a new environment.[75] For example, there are differences in terms of receiving and giving feedback which influences the academic engagement and even job and internship search approach of international students.[76]

Plagiarism is the most serious offense in academia.[77] Plagiarism has two subtle forms, one of which includes the omission of elements required for proper citations and references.[78] The second form is unacknowledged use or incorporation of another person's work or achievement. Violation of either form can result in a student's expulsion. For the international students the word plagiarism is a foreign word.[79] Most of them are unfamiliar with American academic standards and colleges aren’t good about giving a clear definition of the word's meaning. For example, many international students don’t know using even one sentence of someone else's work can be considered plagiarism. Most colleges give students an E on their plagiarized assignments and future offenses often result in failing class or being kicked out of university.

Mental Wellness

International students studying in a foreign country face a life altering event which can cause distress that can potentially affect their mental wellness.[80] When students leave their home country, it is not surprising to imagine that they struggle with balancing the multiple contexts of home and school. Many students report homesickness and loneliness in their initial transition, experience isolation from peers and struggle with understanding cultural differences while staying abroad.[81]

In certain cultures, mental illness is seen as a sign of weakness. Because of this, international students believe they can prevail through their struggles alone without help, which can lead to, a decrease in mental wellness.[82]

Common symptoms among international students from China in particular noted that two prevailing symptoms were discovered: 45 percent of the students faced depression and 29 percent of the students faced anxiety.[83] Stressors that lead international students to struggle with anxiety are rooted in numerous causes, including academic pressures, financial issues, adapting to a new culture, creating friendships, and feelings of loneliness.[84] International students are also more likely to rely on peers for support through their transition than teachers or adult peers.[85] If the student is unable to make friends in their new environment, they will struggle more with their transition than an international student who has established relationships with their peers.[86]

International students also face language discrimination, which may exacerbate mental health symptoms.[86] Evidence has not conclusively shown that language discrimination is a greater risk factor than discrimination against foreigners.[86] However, there has not been any conclusive evidence to show whether language discrimination plays a significantly larger role than simple foreigner discrimination.[87]

Since international students are less likely to use individual counseling provided by the university.[88] and may experience even more intense stigmas against seeking professional help,[89] group-oriented ways of reaching students may be more helpful.[90] Group activities, like collaborative workshops and cultural exchange groups, can introduce a sense of community among the students.[91] In addition, efforts can be placed to improve awareness and accessibility to mental wellness resources and counseling services.[92] Social workers, faculty, and academic staff can be educated beforehand to provide an adequate support for them.[93]

See alsoEdit



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