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Where do international students of higher education come from and where do they go?

The level of development of countries has a direct influence on the education system. By way of example, it is clear that the investment that countries like India and China have made in education over the last few years has had a direct influence on their economic progress. The commitment that Finland made some time ago has also had repercussions on its economy.

By contrast, in western countries increasingly less public money is being devoted to funding higher education. For this reason and because the higher education sector is an increasingly more competitive one, Virginia Rincón-Diez, a researcher in the UPV/EHU’s Department of Financial Economics II, has analysed the factors determining the international demand for higher studies. In her PhD thesis submitted at the UPV/EHU, the researcher Virginia Rincón-Diez has concluded that the international demand for higher education depends largely on the public spending made in education. “The universities in the countries that invest the most in research and development are the most attractive for international students,” added the researcher. So she has, for example, verified that the countries in the north of Europe are more attractive for international students than those located in other parts of Europe, which is the case in many other economic and social spheres. In recent years, the number of enrolments in centres for higher education in Spain has fallen dramatically. So the vacuum that could be filled by foreign students is clear. Nevertheless, the demand for international students received by Spanish universities remains small in comparison with other countries in Europe. The mobility of university students is becoming increasingly important. In fact, due to the demographic decline, the current economic crisis, the rise in the number of universities, etc., many universities have found themselves forced in some way to draw international students in order to “survive”. So “it is important to analyse the factors driving this demand and to observe what increases or reduces the attractiveness of a university or country," added Rincón. The data on Europe and Spain used in this piece of work have been gathered from the websites of UNESCO and of the Ministry of Education in Spain. Using the Anova technique, an analysis was conducted by means of various factors to see whether there are significant differences between European countries with respect to international demand for higher education. At the same time, by using variables, a study was made to see whether among Spanish universities there are significant differences in the international demand for higher studies. The following factors were taken into account: investment that the countries have made in education and in research and development, geographical location of the university, whether the university is public or private, whether it has competition locally (autonomous community or region), the scientific production of the teaching staff, etc. The results obtained indicate that the geographical location of the countries, education policy and that of R&D have a significant influence in international demand in these countries. As pointed out already, specifically, the university systems in the north of Europe are the most attractive for international students. Likewise, the countries that invest most in education and research and development are also attractive in terms of international demand. However, the researcher affirmed that private universities are particularly attractive for students in Europe and North America. And she reached the conclusion that having another university close by has a positive effect on international demand. According to the research, the geographical situation of the university also determines international demand. In this respect, the researcher said that “the proportion of international students is higher in universities close to large cities like Barcelona or Madrid.” Likewise, the volume of scientific production of each lecturer makes the university more attractive. Despite the fact that the quality of what is produced does not influence the capacity to attract international students, the researcher added that “it seems that the key to get these students lies in the volume of scientific production.” Data on Europe and Spain were used for this work, but as the UPV/EHU researcher pointed out, researching the international demand for higher education in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country in greater depth will be an interesting line of research at some point in the future.