For years international college education meant—aside from the junior year abroad—basically only reasonably wealthy foreign students coming to study at American universities. American universities, after all, were thought to be the best in the world; if the family could afford it an American B.A. was totally worth it.
Things are a little different now. As D.D. Guttenplan writes in the New York Times:
For decades the United States attracted more than a quarter of all foreign students in college or graduate education. While the continuing boom in study overseas — an explosion largely unaffected by the economic downturn — means that the number of foreign students going to the United States has continued to grow, the U.S. share of the foreign student market has fallen to just 18.7 percent, according to the most recent report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Meanwhile countries like Australia, Russia and New Zealand have all seen their share of the market rise sharply.
American schools now experience more competition. In part this is because many more countries have developed their own newly prestigious universities and in part this is because of the new internationalization of academia.
It may amount to the same thing, however. As Stuart Tannock of Cardiff University puts it, international education “works as a glorified form of poaching: states seek to secure the labor of educated individuals for whose education they have not had to pay.”
Leaving aside the ultimate equity of that exchange, it used to be mostly the United States that benefited from that relationship. Developing countries lost many of their smart (and rich) people and we got them. Many of the most academically talented people in third-world countries still leave for higher education but they don’t all come here. Many go to Australia, New Zealand, and even—according to the article—the People’s Republic of China.
Can’t say we didn’t see this coming.