Campus France 2023 report on international student mobility: between crisis and recovery

In June 2023, Campus France published its annual report on the main trends in student mobility worldwide (for 2020) and in France (for 2021-2022). This publication is based on data provided by UNESCO, the OECD and the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research (MESR).
International student mobility: evolution and impact of the Covid-19 crisis

2020 marks the start of the Covid-19 global health crisis, which has had a major impact on the international mobility of individuals, including students. Between 2019 and 2020, the number of degree-mobile students increased by 4%, compared with 8.3% between 2018 and 2019. However, this slower growth and the data presented in the report, which only reflect part of the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on international student mobility due to different counting methodologies (see p. 13 of the report), show disparities between countries.

The United States remain the leading host country, with more than 950,000 degree-mobile students in 2020. However, this figure is down 2% on the previous year, making it the third consecutive year without any rise of the international students population in the United States.

Australia lost its 2nd place among host countries to the United Kingdom. The number of international students coming to Australia in 2019 was 15% higher than in 2018. But between 2019 and 2020, the country recorded a 10% fall. This is the only country whose data shows a direct link between the closure of borders during the health crisis and the number of international students.

In Canada and France, respectively 5th and 6th host countries, the number of degree-mobile students hosted on their territory increased more slowly between 2019 and 2020: +16% for Canada, compared with +24% between 2018 and 2019, and +2% for France, compared with +7% between 2018 and 2019. France also moved up one place in the ranking of host countries, due to a lack of data for Russia following the war in Ukraine by Russia. As a reminder, Russia was the 5th host country in 2019.

On the contrary, the United Kingdom and Germany experienced more dynamic growth between 2019 and 2020 than between 2018 and 2019: +13% (compared with +8%) and +11% (compared with +7%) respectively.

Similar to incoming mobility, there was an overall slowdown in 2020 for outgoing mobility: +4% between 2019 and 2020, compared with +7% between 2018 and 2019.  The main reason is that the top 3 countries of origin of degree-mobile students unchanged from 2019, recorded a slower growth: China (+2%, compared with +6%), India (+12%, compared with +22%) and Vietnam (+6%, compared with +16%). However, the number of Indian and Vietnamese students studying abroad for a degree doubled between 2015 and 2020.

Student mobility in France: a significant recovery, but slower growth in French Engineering Schools
According to the MESR, in 2021-2022, the number of foreign students in higher education in France (including degree-mobile students, as well as exchange mobility students and foreign students holding a French Baccalaureate) rose by 8% compared with the previous year. This growth reflects a clear upturn in incoming mobility to France, following the Covid-19 crisis.

Students in exchange programs saw the biggest year-on-year increase: +46%. The previous year, they had been the most affected by the health crisis, which explains this sharp increase in 2021-2022.

In total, almost 400,000 foreign students were welcomed in France.

Looking at where these students come from, data show that North Africa and the Middle East remain in first place (30% of foreign students). However, between 2016 and 2021, the number of students from Sub-Saharan Africa increased the most: +40% (Benin: +73%, Senegal: +62%, Ivory Coast: +50%, Congo: +56%).

French Engineering Schools welcomed more than 28,000 foreign students on their Engineering programs in 2021-2022, which represents 16% of foreign students in France and an increase of just over 3% in one year. For the first time in several years, the increase in the French Engineering Schools foreign students population between 2016 and 2021 is lower than the average growth in France: +16% compared with +21%. This is partly due to a drop in the number of Chinese (-24%) and Brazilian (-13%) students, the largest contingents, which was partially offset by significant increases in the number of Cameroonian (+86%) and Lebanese (+81%) students. Moroccan students population continued to increase (+29% in five years) and remain the largest foreign contingent in Engineering Schools: more than one in five foreign students will be Moroccan in 2021-2022.

It should be noted that the French Engineering Schools have the highest proportion of mobile foreign students: out of every 100 foreign students, 85 are degree-mobile students and exchange mobility students.

In addition, the French Engineering Schools hosted 10% of foreign PhD students in France in 2021-2022, representing more than 2,700 PhD students. At national level, France recorded a 9% drop in the foreign PhD students population between 2015 and 2020, while Germany recorded a 136% increase over the same period, with more than 42,200 foreign PhD students in 2021-2022.

In terms of outgoing mobility for French students from all higher education institutions, Europe remains by far the leading destination, with 72% of French students on degree programmes going to Europe in 2020. It is also the region that has seen the biggest increase between 2015 and 2020: +40%. On the contrary, the number of European students in France rose by only 25% between 2016 and 2020.
To find out more, you can download the full report in French language here.

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