These are challenging times for International education marketing – especially for universities in the USA and UK. As an invisible export, the sector is worth billions, yet politicians sometimes seem blithely unaware of the effect their rhetoric can have in the big educational markets of the globe. A classic example is India. Indian postgraduate numbers have halved in the UK in the past five years, damaged by reports in the Indian press of how the British government views International students, worries about visa over-stayers, doesn’t want to allow them to work here after graduation – and adds them to the ‘net immigration’ figure. Immigration was a key factor in the UK referendum last June as it will be in the French presidential election next weekend. Now the ‘Times of India’ reports that Indian applications to US universities are down 26% for undergraduates and 15% for graduates in 2017 – a fact that may not be unconnected with Trump’s xenophobic tweets, and the increasing controls on visitors to the US.
As if International Education marketing wasn’t tough enough these days. Fortunately, there are some signs of political sensitivity. There is talk today of Theresa May softening her insistence on international student numbers being included in net immigration ahead of the General Election she has just announced in the UK. Trump is already softening his stance on China, having withdrawn his previous claim that China was manipulating its currency and needing to work with the Chinese to stop North Korea from becoming a nuclear power.
All the while, the evidence is that Chinese International students wishing to complete their education abroad continue to grow in number – and unlike their Indian counterparts, the vast majority want to return straight back to their country after graduation. Chinese students in the UK do not even think about over staying their visas. For the moment at least, international politics doesn’t seem to be affecting the Chinese international student market. But with US politics in relative turmoil, and the European Union under populist pressure to restrict immigration, no-one can bet that this happy situation will continue.