The New Flow of International Students

In today’s globalized society, an increasing number of students across the world are presented with the opportunity to take advantage of international educational prospects by choosing to pursue tertiary and graduate education outside of their respective country of birth.  Between 2005 and 2012, the number of foreign tertiary level (such as international university) students enrolled at educational institutions worldwide increased by over 50%, and by 2015 the total number of foreign tertiary level students grew to over 5 million students globally.[1] As shown by the graphs below, the sharp rise in international students has largely coincided with the explosive economic growth experienced in many developing nations over the past 40 years.

By analyzing the trends conveyed by the data, it can clearly be seen that as growth in gross domestic product per capita accelerated in the Peoples Republic of China and the Russian Federation between 1995 and 2005, the number of foreign tertiary level students worldwide also increased dramatically; furthermore, this trend amplified between 2005 and 2010 as GDP per capita in developing nations and the global number of international students rapidly rose in tandem. As economic development and growth brings wealth to industrializing nations and the world becomes a smaller place through the utilization of technology and the process of globalization, students from developing countries are increasingly able to venture overseas to attend elite institutions of learning with the goal of obtaining a world-class education.

Canada, which is the home to numerous globally renowned universities, is one of the main destinations for international university students.  The percentage of foreign tertiary level students within the student populations of Canadian higher learning institutions is largely in line with that of the OECD average and significantly higher in comparison to the levels observed in the United States.

As displayed by the table below, Canada’s international student population largely originates from developing regions; over 56% of Canadian foreign tertiary students come from Asia, and 25.6% of the grand total come from the Peoples Republic of China alone.

The large proportion of international students in Canada from non-industrialized nations exists in spite of the fact that students from developing nations seeking to study in Canada face higher regulatory and institutional barriers compared to students originating from developed nations. For example, a student from the People’s Republic of China is required to complete a full medical examination and to obtain a visitor visa as well as a study permit whereas a student from France only needs to receive an eTA[6] and a study permit.[7] [8] These requirements are in addition to any mandatory provincial study documentation that must be obtained such as the CAQ for foreign students in Quebec.[9] Though the process of satisfying bureaucratic regulations can be time consuming and personally frustrating, 353,000 international students chose to study at Canadian educational institutions in 2015 alone with 51% planning to eventually apply for Canadian permanent resident status;[10] this brings strong benefits to the Canadian economy through attracting hard working, high skilled immigrants with the ability to contribute to productivity, innovation, and the tax base.

At its core, economics is centered on choices.  The choice to leave one’s nation of origin to pursue studies in a foreign land is a major decision often motivated by factors at home, opportunity abroad, and a personal risk-reward evaluation.  The movement of students across borders is a quintessential example of student economics.


John Butler

Works Cited

[1] Education at a Glance 2015, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) available at

[2] Education at a Glance 2015, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

[3] Gross Domestic Product per Capita, Current USD, World Bank Indicators, 2017

[4] Education at a Glance 2015, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

[5] Education at a Glance 2015, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Country of Origin and Destination

[6] eTA: Electronic Travel Authorization.  An electronic screening for visa exempt foreign visitors to Canada.




[10] Canadian Bureau for International Education

Pictured titled, "Globes", taken by ricardo on November 15, 2008, obtained through Creative Commons (