In 1995, Jane Knight and Hans de Wit wrote: “The danger of isolationism, racism and monoculturalism is a threatening cloud hanging above the present interest in internationalisation of higher education.”
Despite the threat, internationalisation matured in its processes and expanded in scope. Specifically, the number of globally mobile students grew from 2.1 million in 2000 to 5.1 million in 2017 – an increase of 143% – according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.
While internationalisation of higher education is not just about global mobility, this remains its most visible and dominant form. More than two decades later, internationalisation of higher education is again threatened by nationalism and other factors.
International student mobility is faced with several serious political and economic changes, risks and challenges. Will the growth momentum of international students continue over the next 25 years and remain sustainable? And will it be an elitist opportunity for a few or accessible for many?
Affordability underpins mobility growth
The aspiration for studying abroad is driven by a complex interplay of many variables. However, one of the key determinants of translating aspirations into reality is the availability of financial resources to study abroad. Affordability is enabled not only by self-financed resources like loans and savings but also external resources like institutional or governmental scholarships or funding.
As a result, the bulk of globally mobile students come from high- and upper middle-income countries, who account for 27% and 40% respectively of total outwardly mobile students. Lower middle-income and low-income countries made up 33% of outward mobility in 2017, according to University Information Services.
In 2004, the number of globally mobile students from upper middle-income countries surpassed the mobility of those from high-income countries – an indicator of the increasing aspirations and abilities of students from upper middle-income countries to study abroad.
The proportion of outwardly mobile students from upper middle-income countries increased from 31% in 2000 to 40% in 2017, while the proportion of those from high-income countries reduced from 43% to 27% over the same period.
Nevertheless, high-income countries enrolled 76% of all globally mobile degree-seeking students as compared to 19% of upper middle-income countries in 2017. This dominance of high-income countries as an internationalisation destination has remained strong over the years.
UNESCO statistics reflect the mobility patterns of degree-seeking international students and do not capture the trends linked to credit mobility. Credit mobility is especially dominant among high-income countries (for instance, Erasmus in Europe and study abroad of American students). This suggests that as the income level of a country increases and the quality of the local higher education system improves, students are more likely to pursue international credit mobility.

Read more: Rahul Choudaha and Hans de Wit : University World News : 08 February 2019