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Data: From 2019-20 Levels, Number of Chinese Students in USA Down 22% in 2021-22 While the Number of Indian Students Back to Pre-Pandemic Levels

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The Open Doors Report-2022 was released recently. The report provides data on places of origin, sources of financial support, fields of study, host institutions, academic level, and rates of growth of the international student population in the USA. The data for 2021-22 indicates that the number of Chinese Students in USA is down 22% while the number of Indian Students is back to pre-pandemic levels. 

The Open Doors Report on International Education Exchange is a definitive annual survey that provides comprehensive information and data on international students studying in the United States of America (USA). The report, funded by the US Department of State, also provides data on places of origin, sources of financial support, fields of study, host institutions, academic level, and rates of growth of the international student population in the USA. The report also provides information on the economic impact of international students on the state where they study and the country in general. The data from the report is used by US Embassies, the Departments of State, Commerce, and Education, and other federal, state, and local organizations for policy decisions. The Open Doors Report -2022 was released recently on 14 November 2022, during International Education Week. The 2022 data provides insights into the enrolment of international students in the USA for education after the pandemic and related restrictions subsided. 

The number of international students in the US has increased by 4% in 2021-22, still much less than the pre-pandemic years

As per the latest report for the academic year 2021-22, the number of international students in higher education institutions in the US was about 9.49 lakhs from more than 200 places of origin. This is the second lowest since 2014-15. The lowest in this period was recorded in 2020-21 when the number of international students fell to 9.14 lakh because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Compared to 2020-21, the number of students has gone up by 3.8% in 2021-22. In each of the years between 2015-16 to 2019-20, there were more than a million international students in the US. The year 2018-19 recorded the all-time highest number of international students in the US with nearly 1.1 million or close to 11 lakh international students. 

The report also noted that international students enrolled for the first time at a U.S. college or university increased by 80% year-over-year to reach almost 2.62 lakh students in 2021-22 and rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.

7 out of 10 international students in the USA are from Asia

Students from Asia continue to account for lion’s share of international students in the US. The share of students from Asia has increased from 66.1% in 2014-15 to 69.5% in 2021-22. However, the share was more than 70% between 2018-19 and 2020-21 which dropped to 0.5 percentage points below 70% in 2021-22. Meanwhile, the share of students from Europe which had declined to 7.4% in the pandemic year, has increased to 8.8%, back to pre-pandemic levels. The share of students from the Middle East and North Africa has dropped from 10.4% in 2015-16 to 5.6% in 2021-22.

Number of International Students from China drops 22% in 2021-22, compared to 2019-20

In each of the years since 2014-15, the top 25 places of origin of international students in the USA account for an average of 83% of all international students that year. In 2020-21, the share of top 25 countries had decreased compared to 2019-20. However, in 2021-22, of the top 25 places of origin, the number of students from 15 countries including India, Canada, and Mexico, has either fully or nearly rebounded to pre-pandemic levels. Notably, the number of students from Nigeria was the highest since 1984-85, and Bangladesh, Pakistan, Spain, and Colombia reached a record number of international students in the USA.

China and India together accounted for more than 50% of the international students since 2016-17. Even in 2021-22, the two countries together accounted for 52%. China continues to be the place of origin for the greatest number of international students in the USA. From 31%, the share of students from China has increased to 35% in 2018-19, 2019-20, and 2020-21 despite the 14.8% decline in the number of students in 2020-21. However, in 2021-22, the share has dropped to 30.6%. In terms of numbers, more than 3 lakh students in the USA were from China between 2014-15 and 2020-21 which dropped by 8.6% in 2021-22 to 2.9 lakh students. In fact, compared to the 2019-20 number of 3.72 lakh, the number of students from China in 2021-22 dropped by more than 22% in 2021-22. 

India is the place of origin for the second-greatest number of international students in the USA. Following a record of more than 2 lakh students from India in the USA in 2018-19, the number has declined since then- by 4.4% in 2019-20 and by 13.2% in 2020-21. However, in 2021-22, the number has gone up by 18.9% to 1.99 lakhs, accounting for 21% of all the international students in the USA. Students from India constituted around 18% in the preceding 4 years. 

Apart from India and China, 10 other countries were the places of origin for more than 11,000 students each in 2021-22. The trend in the number of students from these 12 countries is indicated in the following chart. 

For the first time, Math and Computer Science surpassed engineering as the leading field of study

In terms of the field of study of international students in the USA, more than 21% of the international students in the US were pursuing Math and Computer Science followed by 19.9% in engineering-related courses and 15.5% in business and management courses. Since 2014-15, the share of students in engineering has dropped below 20% for the first time. This is also the first time that math and computer science surpassed engineering as the leading field of study.

STEM-related courses include engineering, health professions, math and computer science, and physical and life sciences. The share of international students pursuing STEM-related courses has increased from 42.8% in 2014-15 to 52.6% in 2021-22. Among Indian students, the share of students pursuing STEM Courses has declined from 80% until 2018-19 to 75.5% in 2021-22. In 2021-22, the share of Indian students pursuing either of the two courses (Math & Computer Science, and Engineering) dropped to 66.4% as compared to nearly 73% in 2017-18. On the other hand, the share of Indian students pursuing business and management courses, social science, and other fields of study is increasing.

However, the share of Indian students pursuing math and computer science and engineering-related courses continues to be higher than the global average of international students pursuing these courses. The share of Indian students pursuing other major courses is much less than the global average share of all international students pursuing those courses. For instance, in 2021-22, more than 36% of Indian students were pursuing math and computer science in the USA compared to 21.1% among all international students. 

Majority of the international students were pursuing graduate courses

The number of international graduate students grew by 17% and surpassed the number of undergraduate students (3.45 lakhs) for the first time in a decade. The total number of graduate students was over 3.85 lakhs, higher than the pre-pandemic total.  This growth, particularly at the master’s level, was likely due to increased student interest and pent-up demand from the previous year. Simultaneously, undergraduate enrolments continued to decline. Additionally, there were 1.84 lakh students on OPT (optional practical training) and 34,131 were pursuing non-degree courses in 2021-22. 

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a temporary employment that is directly related to a student’s major area of study. Eligible students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization before their student visa expires. Students who earned a degree in certain science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields may apply for a 24-month extension of OPT. In other words, those students who pursue STEM courses can opt for three years of OPT or temporary employment before their student visa expires. 

Among Indian students, contrary to the trend in previous years, the share of students in OPT dropped to 34.2% in 2021-22, from 43.9% in 2020-21. In 2020-21, the share of Indian students on OPT had surpassed that of graduate courses. At the same time, there has been a rise in the share of students pursuing graduate courses from 41% in 2020-21 to 51.2% in 2021-22. The trend in the share of Indian students in undergraduate courses and others has not changed visibly.

More than 30% of the international students hosted by New Jersey and Arizona were of Indian origin

While California and New York continue to host the highest and second-highest number of international students (more than one lakh each), New York continues to be the most preferred destination for Indian students. More than 22,000 Indian students were in New York followed by 20,000+ in California, in 2021-22. Texas, which was the most preferred state for Indian students between 2014-15 and 2018-19, was the third most preferred in 2020-21 and 2021-22. 

In terms of the share of international students hosted by the state, more than 30% of the students in Arizona and New Jersey were of Indian origin. The same was more than 25% in Texas, Illinois, Missouri, and Indiana, and more than 20% in Massachusetts, Michigan, Arizona, Ohio, and Georgia. 

The primary source of funding for 55% of the international students was ‘Personal or Family’ funding

The primary source of funding for 55.4% of the international students in the US in 2021-22 was personal or family funding. 20.2% of the students were funded by US colleges or universities. Current employment was the source of funding for 19.8% of the students. Foreign governments or universities funded a further 2.4%. Only 0.5% of students were funded by a foreign private sponsor in 2021-22. Other sources of funding including foreign private sponsors, the US government, US private sponsors, international organizations and other sources was the source of funding for 1.7% of the students.

The trend since 2015-16 indicates that the ‘personal and family funding’ as a source of funding for international students has decreased from 66.5% in 2015-16 to 54% in 2020-21 and increased again to 55.4% in 2021-22. The sponsorship of foreign governments also decreased from 7.4% to 2.4% during the same period. Current employment as the source of funding increased from 6.6% in 2015-16 to 22.7% in 2020-21 and dropped to less than 20% in 2021-22.

Study abroad trend picks up for Indian students after the pandemic years

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the number of Indian students in the USA has reduced. However, in line with the US Embassy and Consulates in India’s announcement in August 2021 that it has approved more student visa applications in 2021 than ever before, it is observed that more Indian students are pursuing studies in the USA in 2021-22. UNESCO’s survey conducted in 2021 also revealed that post the pandemic outbreak, students across India started re-evaluating their choices and are moving to countries like New Zealand, Germany, and Ireland instead of the popular choices like the US, UK, and Canada. 

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