MUMBAI: The United States of America witnessed a historic drop in the new students enrolled at its higher education campuses as a fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic. A 2020 snapshot survey revealed that fresh international student enrolment, whether for in-person classes or those studying online from their home countries, has decreased by 43% for the Fall semester (starting in August 2020).
Data collected from 700 higher education campuses for the snapshot survey, found 90% institutions reporting international student deferrals in fall 2020. Responding institutions indicated that nearly 40,000 students have deferred enrollment to a future term. And, total international students, which includes fresh and currently enrolled candidates, in the United States and studying online outside the United States decreased by 16% in 2020.
“It isn’t just America. It is a year of decreases all over,” said Allan Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education at a press conference. “We have never had a decrease like that. But there is tremendous pent-up demand. When it is safe to resume travel, we will be looking at surge of students.” Anthony Koliha, director, Office of Global Educational Programs at US department of state bureau of educational and cultural affairs said that the US has capacity to respond to the future surge.
Even before Covid struck, flow of students from India to US had begun to ebb. Data captured by the Open Doors revealed that enrolment from India declined by 4.4% in 2019 after a 2.9% rise in the previous academic year (see graph). The slide is pronounced in the graduate, non-degree and OPT (Optional Practical Training) numbers, with a small increase of 0.9% in the undergraduate numbers.
Indians enrolling in American graduate programmes, which account for the largest slice of Indian students in the US, dropped by 5.7% in 2019. The highest fall of 21.4% was from non-degree courses and 4.1% came from OPT—which allows for practical work experience after a degree programme for up to 36 months.
Falling interest in business management was offset by the new-found fancy in math and statistics which lead to jobs in data analysis and artificial intelligence.
For the fifth consecutive year the United States hosted more than one million international students during the 2019-20 academic year. Global data indicates a slight decline (1.8%) in the number of international students in the United States during the 2019-20, after a small rise 2018-19. According to the US Department of Commerce, international students contributed $44 billion to the US economy in 2019. China, followed by India and South Korea, sent the largest cohorts of students to the USA. Indian students contributed $7.7 billion to the US economy.
Unfriendly visa and immigration policies have reduced the number students going to the US. Of the 25 top countries, 19 recorded decline in growth rate in 2019-20 when compared to the previous year. Among the top 20 places of origin, the largest percentage increases were students from Bangladesh (+7%), Brazil (+4%) and Nigeria (+3%). Saudi Arabia saw the largest percentage decrease (-17%), primarily due to changes in its government’s scholarship program.
Over half (52%) of international students in the US pursued majors in STEM fields of study (engineering, math and computer science, physical and life sciences, health professions, and agriculture) in 2019-20. Engineering continued to be the leading field of study accounting for one in five (20.5%) international students. Math and computer science were the second largest field of study, and the number of international students pursuing these) increased by 0.9% in 2019-20
During the 2018-19 academic year, 3,47,099 US students studied abroad for academic credit, a 1.6% increase over the previous year. Those coming to India fell by 15.6%.