The 2014 figures of the UNESCO on international student mobility published last month show significant developments worldwide that are worrying for France. Over the last 15 years, the number of students in international mobility doubled to reach 4.3 million, a growth twice as fast as the increase of global student population, which is already considered as steep. In such context, France attracted 310,000 international students in 2015 (source: MENESR)

However, according to the Unesco, in 2014 France became the 4th host country for students in mobility and 1st non-English speaking country after the US, the UK and Australia. Indeed, this situation is due to a change in the scope of numbers taken into account by the Unesco. But while global student mobility grew by +23% between 2009 and 2014, France developed twice less fast (+11.2%).

Direct competitors as major destination generally register sharp spikes, particularly in English-speaking countries: Canada (+75%) reached the 7th rank of host countries, the United States (+27%) and the United Kingdom (+16%) keep their leading rank. However, the Netherlands went from the 24th to the 12th rank with a 199% growth.

The study also stresses the development of other countries where French is also spoken such as Belgium (+64%) or Switzerland (+42%).

This growth is even more remarkable in countries that were traditionally less attractive and are now quickly developing their regional influence.

Over the last 5 years:

         Russia became the 5th host country before Germany and Japan, with a 65% growth.

         China became the 9th host country with about an 80% growth.

         Saudi Arabia went from 27th to 11th rank of host countries thanks to its new policy regarding scholarship grants for Islamic studies (+260%, biggest growth registered by the Unesco over the last 5 years).

         Turkey went from 25th to 17th rank and registered a +120% growth in international students.

The four countries clearly chose to target international students training as part of a new influence strategy over a geographical area or a group of population:

         Saudi Arabia made a remarkable entrance on the African continent and its progression is sharper every year, attracting students with Islamic scholarship grants:33,727 African students were hosted in 2014 to 2,447 in 2009 (x16!), which represent 50% of incoming mobility in the country to previous 19%. Countries respectively more concerned: Nigeria, Mauritania, Mali, Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya and Chad.

           Russia focuses most of its efforts on members of the CEI. The number students from this area who were welcomed in Russia grew by 80% over the last 5 years and now represent 77% of international students in incoming mobility to 59% previously. 

           China doesn't disclose any information on the origin of students in incoming mobility, but African mobility towards the country should be on the rise, which is a normal aftermath of the development of Confucius Institutes in Africa designed to develop the learning of the Chinese language, but also of the economic implementation of China on the African continent (purchase of agricultural lands and mines, industrial investments and more).

           The sharp rise of incoming mobility in Turkey mostly relies on students from Central Asia and the Middle East (76%). Major countries for Turkey are respectively Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.

But France continues to attract more students every year: 310,000 students in 2015 (source: MENESR).

Other key figures in relation with France:

Since 2006, over the total of students registered in universities, including French students, registrations in PhD courses ("Doctorat") decreased by 13%. Registrations of international PhD students decreased by 4.4% since 2011.

The growth of the number of international students lies in the "grandes écoles" (+27% over the last 5 years) while numbers are stables in universities (+3%).

The first area of origin for international students in mobility in France is Northern Africa (23%), followed by sub-Saharan Africa (20%). Morocco, China, Algeria are the three leading countries of origin.

Power struggle, or even world visions, now exist in higher education attractiveness and brain drain. However, compared to global powers (the US, the UK, China) that are currently securing their position, and to regional powers (Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey) that now play in the big league, France is losing grounds. This situation is striking in Africa, where the attractiveness of France is decreasing, despite the fact that the country is still the first destination for students of the continent.

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