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Episode Notes

Episode Title: Mirka Martel of IIE: Interpreting Trends and Patterns Data on International Education.

Episode summary introduction: At the Institute of International Education (IIE), Mirka Martel runs the Open Doors Data project and Project Atlas to study global mobility trends in International Education.

In this podcast, Mirka Martel, Head of Research at IIE, explains the data and translates what that means for Colleges in the US and around the world, and prospective students and parents.

In particular, we discuss the following with her:

  • Mirka Martel’s Role at IIE
  • What is International Education Research?
  • The Open Doors Data Project
  • Project Atlas
  • Takeaways for Students and Parents

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • Introducing Mirka Martel, IIE [0:46]
  • Professional Background [2:55]
  • Skills needed for Int’l Education Research [6:07]
  • IIE Research Mission  [7:44]
  • Open Doors Data Project [11:19]
  • Project Atlas [31:46]
  • Emerging Areas of IIE Research [43:08]
  • Rising Int’l Applications to the US [46:15]
  • Takeaways for Aspiring Students and Parents [48:52]

Our Guest: Mirka Martel is the Head of Research, Evaluation and Learning at Institute of International Education (IIE for short). Mirka has a BA in International Relations and Affairs from The George Washington University, Master’s in International Relations from Columbia University and a PhD International and Comparative Education from Teachers College, Columbia University.

Memorable Quote: “IIE has been collecting data for Open Doors for over 70 years, that’s 7,0 so quite a long time...”.

Episode Transcript: Please visit Episode’s Transcript.


Episode Transcript

Transcript of the episode’s audio.

Venkat Raman  0:06  

Welcome to the podcast, “College Matters. Alma Matters.” We podcast, personal college stories, and all things college. Check us out and subscribe at almamatters dot io, forward slash podcasts (almamatters.io/podcasts).

<Start Snippet> Mirka  0:21  

There are so many wonderful opportunities. There are over, we survey over, 2000 US universities that host international students. So there is such a diversity of universities in every state, and of every type.

Venkat  0:46  [Introducing Mirka Martel, IIE]

Mirka Martel is the Head of Research, Evaluation and Learning at the Institute of International Education (IIE for short).

IIE is a century old marquee institution whose mission is to enable people and organizations to leverage International Education.

Mirka studies global mobility trends and translates what that means for Colleges in the US and around the world, and prospective students and parents.

Her group’s flagship work is the Open Doors Data project and Project Atlas devoted to US Colleges and Global Colleges respectively. Data from these projects are made available publicly every year.

Mirka joins us today to translate that data, trends and patterns for us - What they tell us, and what aspiring students and parents can learn about their choices, in order to plan their college process better, and create the “best” outcomes for them.

So, without further ado, here’s Mirka Martel!

Venkat Raman  2:01

Hey, Mirka, welcome! Hi, how

Mirka  2:04  

Hi, how are you?

Venkat Raman  2:05  

I'm doing well. How are you doing?

Mirka  2:07  

Good. And can you hear me. Okay?

Venkat Raman  2:10  

Fantastic. It's okay. Loud and clear. Thank you. So let me start by welcoming you to our podcast, “College Matters. Alma Matters.” So,..

Unknown Speaker  2:20  

it's great to be here.

Venkat Raman  2:22  

Yeah, I'm really excited to have you on this program and listen to your conversation. And talk about all the research that you're doing. And I think our audience of international students, I think what's going to lap it all up.

So let's get started. So, maybe the best place to start is maybe a little bit about your background, how you got into all this international research. So that will provide us some context.

Mirka  2:55  [Professional Background]

Perfect. Yes. So thank you so much for having me. My name is Mirka Martel, and I'm the Head of Research, evaluation and learning at the Institute of International Education, or I II.

And I've been in this role really overseeing research and insights on international educational exchange, and mobility and students and scholars for, for about eight years. And my team and I, we really looks at research on international student scholar mobility trends, and then also looks at the impacts of this type of mobility, so the impacts of educational exchange, but also the impacts of different types of programs that give students or scholars the opportunity to have an international education experience.

Venkat Raman  3:48  

So um, so how did you get into all this?

Mirka  3:53  

So I think Originally, I was studying international affairs. I did my degree at George Washington University, and then I did a Master's at the School of International Public Affairs at Columbia. And I really wanted to look at international education trends, not only why students and scholars were choosing to pursue education in other countries, what opportunities there were, but also what the impacts were.

And a lot of the work I've done is, has also been around measuring the impact of international educational exchange, when it comes to knowledge exchange and mutual understanding when it comes to skills acquisition.

So what kind of skills international students will learn when they go to another country and pursue education another country. And also what are their career pathways?

So where, How does an international education experience help them in global competence for example, or intercultural competence to help them, really in their future?

Venkat Raman  5:03  

So why international education, though? Why what intrigued you about that?

Mirka  5:08  

So really looking at the experiences that students have in having opportunities and access an opportunity to education in their home country, but choosing to pursue international education experiences globally.

And I think really looking at, you know, access to higher education, broadening access to higher education for those in countries where higher education options may be limited. But also, this idea that we are living in a global world and a globalized world, and that international education really at this point is beyond borders.

Venkat Raman  5:54  

What does it take to kind of be skilled at doing this? I mean, what do you think, is needed to do something like what you're doing or be part of that overall enterprise?

Mirka  6:07  [Skills needed for Int’l Education Research]

So I think what I, what I've learned is, you definitely have to have a deep knowledge and understanding and data and data analytics, I think primarily, what we do is we look at all of the different global trends. And we look at inbound, where international students are going from what countries and we look at that trend over time.

And we measure kind of what the differences are over time. So really having those types of research skills and data analysis skills is very helpful. 

And then I think the other area is just understanding geopolitics, having an understanding of kind of International Affairs, and international politics always helps.

Because what we find is, of course, that context matters, and that these types of trends, and when you see different trends happening, of why students are choosing one country over another, often are very much rooted in geopolitical trends, or social trends, that that really influence the the trend, the trend, the mobility trends themselves.

Venkat Raman  7:20  

In your role, what is the overarching sort of mission or vision that you're shooting for? Sort of want to get into your projects there, But what is sort of an overarching thing, if there is such a thing, and the whole area of international education that you're really trying to find answers? So..

Mirka  7:44  [IIE Research Mission]

Yeah, we're really trying to understand how international higher education mobility patterns happen. What are, you know, what are institutions of higher education at different countries doing to attract international students? What are countries doing to attract international students, and then how this you know how this transitions into mobility trends over time.

So looking where international students choose to go to study, for what reasons and how that influences the international higher education field overall. for my end, at IIE, what we primarily look at is the United States.

So we look at the US higher education community in the US, US universities, and we really look at, you know, what are the trends for international students coming to their university and US students studying abroad? So really looking at how international students and scholars contribute to the higher education system in the United States, for example.

Venkat Raman  8:51  

Maybe we'll get into this later, but do you look at answers to questions like why do certain countries end up sending quite a lot more students to the US, for example, than others? I mean, why is the distribution so different?

I mean, I'm sure there are obviously local factors, political factors and geopolitical factors that you mentioned plus economic factors, right? But I mean, it's just a very curious, so I just, yeah, no, they're asking is that, is that something that you try to answer?

Mirka  9:25  

Absolutely. I mean, we certainly look at that, we look at the US higher education system, which is quite large. There are over 4000 us higher education institutions in the United States.

So that in comparison to other countries that have limits, or just have a limited number of universities, that being coupled with growing youth bulges and the youth kind of demographic trends in some countries, is actually quite influential in creating these mobility trends.

The US higher education system is well known, and I think also has very strong outreach strategies. That being said, one of the projects we'll talk about project Atlas actually looks at other large host countries and some of the comparisons between a place like the United States and for example, Canada or Australia.

So I can certainly speak to that later. But I do think that we certainly look at what are the trends that are contributing to this? Is it the number of institutions that have space available, for example, for international students? Is it emerging what we call emerging international student markets.

So places like Nigeria, or Pakistan, or Bangladesh, that have a very large growing youth population, but perhaps don't have the capacity in their higher education system to be able to accommodate all of these students? So how is that influencing trends as well.

Venkat Raman  11:02  

So maybe we should sort of dive into this flagship project that you guys do Open Doors. And give us, you know, let's talk about that. Maybe give us some history and context, and then we can sort of dive deeper?

Mirka  11:19  [Open Doors Data Project]

Absolutely. So Open Doors is our flagship project, we've been working, it has been collecting data for Open Doors for over 70 years. That's seven, zero. So quite a long time.

 We're collecting data on international students and scholars coming to the United States since the mid ‘40s. So it's pretty incredible. And this data, again, allows us to look at kind of large trends that are happening across in terms of inbound and outbound mobility in the United States. We work on this project with the US Department of State, and their Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Project does is, on an annual basis, so every year, we get data from US universities, and we asked them, you know, how many international students came to your campus this year, or were on your campus or were enrolled this year? How many us students studied abroad? And then we ask a lot of different, very specific questions about from where and for how long. And so we can really provide a level of data that is very specific, and, and longitudinal to show some of these trends over time.

And I'll say before we even get into it any further that all of this data is publicly available. So we have a website called www dot open doors data.org (www.opendoorsdata.org), where you can find all of this data about how many international students from India came to the United States last year, at what level at undergraduate or graduate for what fields of study.

So it really provides a plethora of data around who is coming to the United States to study what fields and it also shows this historically.

Venkat Raman  13:16  

Now, I just wanted to add that when you said 70 years, I just want the listeners to know that IIE was actually founded in 1919. So it's over 100 years old, right? So I was surprised to sort of even find that out.

Venkat Raman  13:38

What is the actual procedure or process that you go through collecting this? And yeah, so maybe we'll start there.

Mirka  13:45  

Sure. So again, what we do is we actually look at US institutions, universities, that host international students, and we send them a survey each year. And we ask them to give us essentially all of the data that they have on international students, where they came from, for what degree they're studying, what fields of study.

And then we combine all of that into kind of a, large statistics that are rolled up. And that speaks to really that speak to the trend at the US level. And then we do the same on the US side also studying abroad.

So we also ask these same institutions, okay, how many us students went abroad to where for how long for what field of study?

And so then we're able to, every November we do this every November, we have a big kind of unveiling and briefing on the data that we have for each year.

Venkat Raman  14:49  

Now, do colleges sort of collaborate? Are they participating pretty readily or is this something that you have to push every year to get it done?

Mirka  15:00  

They may really do they cooperate, not only because it's so historical, but because it really is a form of advocacy for them, right? Like they want this data, they want to be able to show how many international students they've had, or how many us students they had abroad. And then they want to be able to really see how they fit into the bigger pie.

So I think that for a lot of US universities, which we're very close to so many of them, they really want to know what, is, what this data is, because they can then use it for advocacy.

And they can use it at their own institutions for helping to improve and increase their international student programs, for example.

Venkat Raman  15:50  

So you collect all this data, and then you know, obviously, there's all kinds of crunching that you guys do. Now, what are some of the top things that you've learned in the last five years? And then probably contrast it with from 10 years ago? Or maybe from when you started?

Mirka  16:09  

Yeah. So a couple of things. And I'll focus again on inside because I think that's of most interest, to your, to your listeners.

Yeah, I think, you know, there's been a huge amount of growth. I think if we look at even the last five or 10 years, the numbers really have been going up. The numbers have flattened in the last year or two.

But for five years now, we have had over a million international students in the United States. And again, I'll talk a little bit about project Atlas and the global perspective. But that makes up about 20% of all students that are globally mobile. So about one in five students around the world comes to study in the United States.

The, the vast majority of students who come to the United States come at either the undergraduate or the graduate level. But we have seen a really big increase in Optional Practical Training, or OPT. And most of your listeners and their parents will know that that's a great opportunity for international students when they come to the United States to stay on after their degree for a work opportunity or an internship opportunity. And so a lot of students do take advantage of that.

So we've seen increases. The largest countries of origin have stayed the same for the past five years, and if not longer, and they are China, India and South Korea, China and India together make up over half of all international students. So there has been a real increase a real steady flow of students from China and India. And particularly if we look at like the last 10-20 years, there was a large increase of students from China.

Most students go to study in, in six states. So just looking at kind of the geographic composition, most students go to study and institutions in California, New York, and Texas are the top three. And again, you can find all of this data [online].

And then the last thing I'll just talk about are fields of study. So over half of the students who come to the US do study in STEM fields, it is an incredibly popular area of study. And we do continue to see that Engineering and Math and Computer Science are the most popular fields.

If you're asking me about trends in the last five years, business and management is one that used to be much higher, but has actually decreased a bit in the last few years.

Now, the one thing I should say is that the data I'm talking to you about right now is from the 2019-20 school year. So it takes us about a year or two or half a year to really analyze this data. And so one thing to keep in mind is that this data was collected prior to the covid 19 pandemic.

And we have and we have collected some data since the COVID-19 pandemic. And we do know that there is going to be a pretty significant decrease in the number of international students who were frankly just able to come physically this year. But we do also have some hopeful news, which I can share about the kind of future enrollments that we might be seeing on the horizon.

Venkat Raman  19:46  

So what, so a couple of questions I had, so one is about India, China and India, You know, they're almost half the source of international students you mentioned. So, you know, maybe we can double click on why you think that might be happening.

The second thing I think is worth talking about is, you know, can you, I mean, are you able to do any kind of prediction, I know, prediction is, is a black art, but, you know, based on some of the trends that you see how that sort of carries forward?

So, maybe we can first do the, the, the China India question.

Mirka  20:35  

Sure. So, both China and India, China has seen a huge rise in, in students, international students coming to the United States for the above, for about the last 10 years.

And there has been kind of, you know, back in, I would say, the late 2000s, India was actually the number one source of international students coming to the United States and that it's switched, and really China took off.

Chinese students have been coming to the United States, particularly to study in STEM fields, both at the undergraduate and graduate level, the vast majority of them, I think it's almost 80% of that of, of Chinese students in the United States study STEM, or I'm sorry, it's half, half 49%. And then I'll get into Indian students, which I even have.

But um, you know, really, they're availing themselves of these opportunities in STEM study. And then also, Ott opportunities. So again, optional, practical training is a great opportunity. But it's but it's also a great opportunity for STEM fields, because the stem extension that was announced in 2016, allows for students to stay in the United States to really, you know, have an internship or work experience for up to three years. And so I think a lot of international students are also taking an opportunity there.

And that's important for the Indian students as well. So the majority of international students who come to the United States from India are at the Graduate graduate level, and also at the OPT level. And this is where the statistic of the almost 80%, comes in the vast vast majority of Indian students who come to the US 78% are studying STEM fields. So again, there's a large percentage of students who are coming to study in engineering, and Math and Computer Science, and really has been kind of driving that, that increase.

Venkat Raman  22:40  

Yeah. Now, do we know anything about the economic status of these students coming in from the top three countries, the family finances?

Mirka  22:51  

Okay. So, so while we don't ask about kind of their economic status, per se, what we do ask is where their source of funding comes from, for their for their international study. So what we actually find is that over half of the international students who are coming and again, I don't have this specifically for India and China, but I could look it up. Sure, but for over half of the international students who are coming to the United States are actually funding their studies from personal funds, personal and family focus. So I think that also speaks to the choices that a lot of international students and families are making to pursue study in the US.

Venkat Raman  23:35  

Okay, so, so basically, the, if that number holds, basically, half the students coming in are coming from reasonably well to do families, right, middle class or upper to upper middle class, but..

Mirka 23:49  

Certainly what we're exactly what we're seeing is that over half of the students overall, yeah, are getting that funding from personal funds.

Venkat Raman  24:04  

The other, other question I have is, you know, are colleges adjusting their international student numbers here to hear or are they typically part of a growing trend for college? Or, you know, do they, I guess, they don't really have quarters of any kind. But how are you seeing those patterns over the last five years?

Mirka  24:27  

So in addition to the data we collect, and open doors every fall, we collect data in what's called a Fall Snapshot. And this is where we ask a little bit about recruitment trends and what paths kind of universities are doing to recruit and I would say that the, the internationalization efforts are very strong.

Last fall, even when it was kind of amid the covid 19 pandemic, we found that over half of the institutions noted that their funding for international student recruitment was out The same level if not higher.

So, So institutions are certainly kind of that commitment is there. And they're, they're using various means. I do think that recruitment outreach is very strong in these leading countries. So a lot of institutions will report to us about focusing on China, focusing on India, and their recruitment efforts there, through EducationUSA through social media or other other venues. So certainly, what we've seen, at least in the trends is that the recruitment focus is very strong in these institutions.

Venkat Raman  25:48  

So now, um, so once you publish these reports, I mean, what, what do colleges, you mentioned advocacy on the part of colleges, What are some of the other things you'd like to see happen?

And also in the same vein, what do you think are obstacles or that international education our students coming to the US have to overcome, I mean, other than, you know, meeting academic requirements and college requirements, but what are the challenges we think are causing these some new trends or for where things are as we speak? So I do, there's just some thoughts on that?

Mirka  26:34  

Yeah, so I'll I will focus first on the US University side, I mean, I think certainly there is an effort here, to continue to recruit international students, I think they are coming up against quite a lot of challenges. Some that were before COVID-19, and some that are that have been since COVID-19.

So the ones that are before COVID-19, is that really, there is competition for international students. Now, there are countries like Canada, Australia, China, and others that are putting forth really strong campaigns to attract international students to their countries.

So for, for these universities, it's incredibly important to continue to recruit. Of course, the other, the other factor that was well before COVID-19 is also the economic impact, so the economic value that international students bring. And just to give you an idea of that, in the last reporting year, international students contributed $44 billion to the US economy. So it's and that number has more than doubled, I believe, since in the last 10 years. So these are kind of huge considerations for universities.

Now since COVID-19, the two other factors that universities are have to grapple with are some of the policies that are coming out and travel restrictions that have been beyond their their control, that really speak to whether students are able to travel and safety and security, of course, like are they able to safely come to campus. But the other thing is really the hit, that higher education community in the US and worldwide has felt around decreasing enrollments and just the potential effect of COVID-19.

So I would say those two factors are the more recent ones really worrying about safety and security and our current international students come safely. And then, you know, we want to continue to recruit international students, but we are also facing challenges when it comes to budgets tightening and, and constraints that they might be seeing kind of at their university.

Venkat Raman  28:59  

Now, one last question on this, on Open Doors from my side would be other things that you would like to see happen with these are the data and the findings that you produce area that you think is not being, You know, that that it's not being taken advantage of other things that are opportunities? I guess, yeah,

Mirka  29:24  

Yeah. One of the things I've been trying to focus on is how we can link this to this students and prospective students. So I know that a lot of the listeners on the line today are prospective international students and their families. So one of the things we always know with open doors, that's a constraint is that we have the university perspective. So we speak to universities, we ask them what trends are happening, how international students which international students are coming in why, but what I also tried to do then is to look at other student level data, prospective student level data that will then help me kind of have the complimentary picture.

And when I'm able to do analysis like this, it's really helpful, because it helps me see the other side of the coin. And so we're often, you know, sharing data, we work closely with College Board, for example, to look at their comparative international student data, because I have the data from the US universities, but to also see what the desires of international students are, where they would like to go, where they're researching their international experience, is really good to have us the complementary picture.

Venkat Raman  30:40  

Now, are you saying you, you don't have access to that today, Or are you are meshing those two together today?

Mirka 30:48  

So I think that we we do not collect this data and open doors typically looks at university level data, and I think we'll continue to look at university level data, we are beginning to look at comparable or comparative data, working with entities like college board or looking at the Qf reports, for example. So I'm hopeful that we will be able to have more comparable data like that, and comparative analyses in the future.

Venkat Raman  31:19  

Fantastic. Okay, so thanks for explaining open doors, I think it's a fantastic project and hope it continues for not just another 70 years but beyond.

Venkat Raman 31:40

Maybe we can talk a little bit about project Atlas. Tell us a little bit about that, and how it came about.

Mirka  31:46  [Project Atlas]


So whatever I just described, which is at the US level, so you know, international students coming to the US, US students studying abroad, we then look at comparatively at the international level through a project called Project Atlas.

And what we do is we work with kind of similar organizations like ours across the world, that collects similar data to ours for their country, and what we try to do is to combine it together. So we ask them to collect data that's very similar to ours, or, you know, as as similar as possible. And we then look at this data comparatively.

And so what we can then see is a really comprehensive picture of what global mobility looks like. And that's, that's pretty amazing, because with, with the, with the flows that we see from to and from the US, of course, the global pie of international students is growing. It's been growing at a rate of almost 5% every year.

And so we know that the number of international students is growing, there's more international students that are pursuing education abroad. And we want to know, okay, are they coming to the US. We know 20% of them are, well, where else are they going?

And, and you can then get a little bit of a better picture of how these trends are happening, how some countries are really increasing the number of international students that they have. So it really helps us to do that.

We've been doing project Atlas for 20 years since 2001. And we have over 30 international partners, including countries like Canada, the UK, Germany, in Latin America, Argentina, just countries around the world that are also hosts of international and senders of international students, and we collect that data each year.

Venkat Raman  33:56  

Who's the customer of this information?

Mirka  33:58  

So it's, it's a similar demographic, I mean, it's it's also prospective international students, if you want to see kind of where the US stands and where are other countries where students are interested to go for their study, then Project Atlas really helps you because it helps you see okay, the US is the top host. The UK is is second then China is third. And how has this change happen?

You can also see that there are some countries like Canada and Australia that have really been increasing their, the percentage of international students so it helps you see this global picture. And you know, you can certainly see then that what what the opportunities are for study abroad or international study.

Venkat Raman  34:49  

How does the US stack up against, say, Australia and Canada? Like you mentioned, the ones that are growing more than, you know, obviously, we're getting one Then five international students at this point.

What, you know, what are our strengths? And obviously, what are the challenges that we face, which in Australia and Canada, let's say taking advantage of or benefitting from.

Mirka  35:16  

Yeah. Um, so there are definitely advantages. I mean, I think I'll speak to three advantages of the US, it does have a very large and established us higher education system. There are a lot of opportunities throughout the country, in all fields of study, and really, the specialization, particularly in STEM is, is, is very advanced.

There are also a lot of international students who come to the United States. So the systems are set up very well. And I think that US universities are great hosts for, for international students.

The last thing I will say where the US has a little bit of an upper hand, is that the US has a very large capacity to host international students. So international students at this point, make up about 5 to 6% of the total capacity of kind of international, US universities. And so there's a lot more room to grow potentially, in terms of international students coming to the United States.

What, what these other countries have in the country that have been growing, there are three areas there too.

So on the one hand, some of them have done really aggressive kind of strategies, national strategies around attracting international students. So they're often giving a lot of benefits, but they're also kind of committing themselves, whether financially or through policies to increase the amount of international students that come to the US and these centralized strategies for some of these countries have really worked.

The other way that these countries, are, are really growing is in providing different opportunities for scholarships, for example, again, sometimes scholarships that are very large or large in scope, I would say, and really providing a lot of opportunities and recruiting, certain pipeline. So for example, China has a very strong scholarship program from the African region to China. And so this has allowed for some of these countries to really expand the amount of international students who are coming to their borders.

The last area, I will, I will say, and there is some diversity that's growing here. But there is an important point to be made here around kind of Anglophone countries and countries have English speaking programs. So I think the way that Australia Canada has been able to capitalize on English speaking programs, in fact, China has been expanding their English speaking degree programs dramatically, within China knowing that really, the prevalence, most international students who are going to study abroad will likely be studying in English. So there has been competition in this area as well.

Venkat Raman  38:26  

Now, you mentioned STEM. And so I was just curious, what are the popular majors, if you will, that, you know, students end up picking in Canada or Australia? And maybe even China? Is it all driven by STEM or it's a different distribution?

Mirka  38:46  

So, I would have to go back to the data on this, because I think that mainly what we're looking at is places of origin in terms of the countries that go to these places. But I do know, that certainly these countries have also been kind of strengthening their abilities in these fields, but that the predominant factor is still the United States in terms of STEM study.

Venkat Raman  39:11  

Yeah, the other thing that would be interesting, is the profiles of students who end up going to different places. I mean, so those would be two and you know, it sort of ties back to the families and the economic status and other things.

Mirka  39:28  

Absolutely, I mean, it also speaks to just if even if you're just looking at kind of, right, like the top five countries that are, you know, are sending students to the US versus Canada versus Australia. I mean, I think you do see some trends there. Even in amongst, for example, Indian students, the number of Indian students going to Canada has increased a lot, just as it has for the US but there is their has been kind of a growing number there. So I think it does help you show some of the trends that we're seeing in terms of inbound and outbound students.

Venkat Raman  40:13  

Now, you mentioned that globally, international students been growing at about 5% a year or something or something close to that. Now, the US has stayed flat. What is the reason? Why is US flat when the other countries are growing? I mean, we've been at a million you said for the last five years. Yeah,

Mirka  40:30  

it's been over a million.

Venkat Raman  40:34  

Yeah, so it's relatively flat. What do you think, is the reason for that when, when the numbers are growing, the pie is growing.

Mirka  40:44  

Exactly. Yeah. I mean, I think again, I think what's happening is that there is a growing competition. And so exactly, I think what's happening is the pie is growing. The US is maintaining its kind of lead. Again, I mean, it has over a million students. I think the next the next highest is the UK, and it has over 500,000. So there's, there's a huge gap. But it is there is something to be said for that I think a number of these other countries are increasing the number of international students coming to their countries at a higher rate.

And I do think as that pie is growing, the the portion of the pie that the US has, it has been fairly steady. But these other countries are really potential and getting the newer share of the pie, if you will. So this competition is there.

Venkat Raman  41:42  

Okay, now, how are the US colleges kind of using your learnings from Project Atlas? I would I would imagine that would provide them with great.

Mirka  41:51  

It really does. I think, again, if you were to look at the US in a vacuum, you would be missing the picture. I think you need to look at global mobility. And what's happening, I think we've been the United States has been very fortunate to have these growth, and international students coming to the US.

But I think if you look at the global picture, and then you really get to see that, oh, wow, that pie is really growing and continues to grow. There are opportunities, there are more opportunities for international students to come to the US. And so institutions need to be aware of that. And they need to be aware of kind of, you know, what other countries are doing to try to attract students as well. So I think it's really important for them to not look at international student pipelines as just in a vacuum of, you know, coming to the US, but also knowing that international students have, you know, really have choices in terms of where to go.

Venkat Raman  42:54  

What are the kinds of things you're looking to do over the next couple of years? I mean, what's, what are some new research projects or, you know, doing more with what, so what's on tap?

Mirka  43:08  [Emerging Areas of IIE Research]

Yeah! We will talk about three areas that we're looking at into. One is not only international students coming to the US at the tertiary level, but we also have a study that we just did on international high school students. So we know that high school students from internet or international high school students in the US are really strong pipeline to international students.

And in fact, this year, we found that US universities, the top area where they were recruiting students was in the United States at high schools. So really recruiting students who might already be in the US from an international destination. So that's one area that we've been considering really looking at the pipeline of international students coming to the US.

The second area is, of course, around the pandemic. So one of the things we're looking at is not only from the US perspective, but from a global perspective, how is the COVID-19 pandemic going to alter or redefine the international education experience? So we've already seen, you know, there's been a huge pivot to virtual.

But we want to see now so what's going to happen? Is this a stopgap measure? Do international students kind of have their passports ready, and as soon as the vaccine rollout is happening, and everything that that will be, you know, back and really coming to US universities, but also worldwide?

We want to see, how would this might affect mobility? Is there going to be an increase in virtual programming? Is there going to be an increase in hybrid models, for example, where you start your international study at home and then you come for a shorter amount of time?

So we're all, we're certainly looking at not only kind of what happened During COVID-19, but how it might help how it might really affect global mobility in the future. And then the last area, we're also really looking at specific groups of students.

So looking to ensure that, you know, students across different demographics across different countries of origin, can still have those opportunities to come to the US to study. And I think the question you you raised earlier around economic possibilities is a real one, I really have to say that because one of the things that a lot of experts are saying now is, you know, virtual enrollment is great, but it could also further the gap between those that can afford international education and can afford to go to another country to study and those that may not be able to afford it.

And so I think there's also a big push to make sure that international education remains as diverse as possible, and that opportunities to go in person or virtual are there for all types of international students.

Venkat Raman  46:15  [Rising Int’l Applications to the US]

I just wanted you to comment on one, something that we've been reading in the news is, you know, the International applications for Fall, at least with so called top colleges, top US colleges, yes, exploded. And with the relaxation, if you can call it that of SAT and other kind of admission requirements.

And so that dynamic is pretty interesting, one would have thought in pandemic, times, you would see a decreased application volume, but seems to be counterintuitive. So are you looking at that and or do you have a take on that?

Mirka  46:57  

Yeah, we are, we're just going to be starting our collection cycle for this past year's data. And also looking at through another survey and kind of application data. I think we we saw this coming a little bit. We had large numbers of or our Fall Snapshot kind of indicated there was a large number of deferrals.

But that there was also a large number of students who had chosen to hold off. And I think that was seen even in some of the prospective student data. So a lot of institutions were kind of preparing themselves and hoping that after really the dip of this past year that they might be able to, to recover. And so you are absolutely right, I mean, some of the preliminary application data that's coming out, it's quite, it's quite positive.

So we're all hoping that it might mean that institutions can, you know, can really bring back some of those international students bring back new international students and really come back post pandemic, I think the one thing I'm interested to see is just how this shakes out, in terms of which types of students are able to come, and how really institutions are going to prepare. And I think a lot of them are preparing for, you know, a bounce back. And I think that they're really putting aggressive measures in place to be able to accommodate larger numbers of international students.

Venkat Raman  48:31  

So we are kind of nearing the end of our podcast, you’ve been extremely generous with your time.

Now, I wanted to see if you had any special message for parents and students of aspiring students, parents of aspiring students, as they look at international education, especially applying to the US.

Mirka  48:52  [Takeaways for Aspiring Students and Parents]

I would just say to do your research, there are so many wonderful opportunities. There are over, we survey, over 2000 US universities that host international students. So there is such a diversity of universities in every state, and of every type.

And I think that sometimes, that knowledge, it takes a little bit of time to learn what all these opportunities are, and the types of universities that are that are recruiting international students, but you know, getting as much knowledge as they can around front, whether it's from EducationUSA centers, or whether it's from online searches, I think will help them make the right decision and just really looking forward to it.

We are seeing, I am hoping some light at the end of the tunnel. This has been a pretty dark year when it came to international higher ed and particularly international students who, who couldn't make it to the US and so I'm really hoping and I know US Universities are really hoping that we're gonna see some lighter days ahead.

Venkat Raman  50:03  

We absolutely will. So thank you so much America for your time for your thoughts for your explanations and insights. I'm sure we'll do this often, as you have more data. But thank you so much. And for now, take care. Be safe.

Mirka  50:25  

Thank you so much. Thank you everybody for listening. And absolutely, I would be, I would be very happy to talk to you again.

Venkat  50:38

Hi again!

Hope you enjoyed our podcast with Mirka Martel of IIE.

Mirka gave us a detailed interpretation of the comprehensive research data based on Open Doors Data and Project Atlas.

As you make your list of colleges, these takeaways should give you additional intelligence about your options - the global competitive landscape, the needs of  Colleges, and their recruitment decisions and patterns.

Do use this information to dig a little deeper into your colleges.

For your questions or comments on this podcast, please email podcast at almamatters.io [podcast@almamatters.io].

Thank you all so much for listening to our podcast today.

Transcripts for this podcast and previous podcasts are on almamatters.io forward slash podcasts [almamatters.io/podcasts].

To stay connected with us, Subscribe to Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify or visit anchor.fm forward slash almamatters [anchor.fm/almamatters] to check us out.

Till we meet again, take care and be safe.

Thank you!

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