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Emerging International Student Markets to Watch in 2021

One of the major goals of Higher Education Institutions (HEI) is to have a multicultural student community where local and international students harmoniously interact and learn from one another. This is one of the reasons why HEIs exert effort to attract top global learners, the other reason being the financial and cultural contributions of these students.


A lot of HEIs focus on one or two student markets, particularly China and India. This is a practical approach since these two countries have plenty of young people interested in studying abroad. However, there is no monopoly in interest in overseas education. Students from other countries share the same interest and would want to study abroad if given the opportunity. The only issue preventing this from happening is their limited access to opportunities for international education.


In this regard, institutions need to make their programs more accessible to students in emerging student markets just like how they are visible in top international student source countries. Moreover, the pandemic showed the scary reality of relying on just a few student markets. 


When Chinese and Indian students were not able to embark on overseas studies because of the coronavirus crisis, the international education scene suffered. Students from these two markets led the foreign learner demographics over the past years. Seeing their absence in the scene, institutions now more than ever realize the importance of having a connection with other student markets.


To get a clearer view of which countries HEIs can consider when promoting their programs and are possible sources of new international student recruits, I listed some of the most promising student markets right now.

Key Takeaways:

  • Some of the countries demonstrating great potential to be top sources of international students in the future are Nigeria, Nepal, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Turkey
  • These countries’ thriving economies provide more income to families which boost their capacity to fund their children’s overseas studies
  • These countries also have a huge pool of potential international student recruits who can help in diversifying the student communities of top HEIs around the world
  • Past and current international students from these countries generally prefer science and business courses


In 2020, Nigeria was the largest economy in Africa. Its booming national wealth certainly makes for a stable source of Nigerian international students. Nearly 100,000 Nigerian students have enrolled abroad in 2020. The increasing demand from middle- and high-income Nigerian families who can afford to send their children overseas means that recruiting prospects from the West African nation seem poised to remain strong. Nigerian students tend to be quite proficient in English as it is the official language of the country. Those at the undergraduate level are often academically well prepared, especially in science-related subject areas.


Vietnam’s economy has been consistently growing with a peak of 7.1% in real GDP growth in 2018 and the growth is expected to last until at least 2025. Vietnam also has a young population, with 50% being younger than 30. This means that a bulk of the population is in the studying age and with a growing economy, families have more disposable income that they can use to support the education of their children even if they choose to study abroad. 


In recent years, the number of Vietnamese students studying abroad has increased by 69%. Based on the records of Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training, there were about 170,000 Vietnamese studying abroad in 2019.


According to 2016 data, 90% of all Vietnamese outbound students were self-funded, while only 4.2% were granted government scholarships to study overseas. According to UNESCO, Japan, the United States, and Australia are among the top destinations for Vietnamese students. In 2017, 28% of all Vietnamese foreign students were studying in Japan. Students from Vietnam are mainly interested in degrees in Business, Social Sciences, Economics, International Relations, and International Development.


HEIs that wish to enroll more Vietnamese undergraduate students should consider promoting scholarship and financial aid opportunities. According to some recruitment professionals, they are attracted by merit-based scholarships. 


Some experts have also noted that Vietnamese students’ financial conditions are better than those of students from other countries in the Southeast Asian region. Identifying local scholarship programs within Vietnam as well as communicating their scholarship programs could help institutions attract more international students from Vietnam.


According to statistics from the Taiwan Ministry of Education, a total of 67,668 Taiwanese students went abroad to study or work in 2018. The United States continued to be the top study destination for Taiwan students, with 21,516 students, accounting for 32 percent of Taiwan students going abroad. Australia came in second place, with 18,227 students, and Japan third place, with 10,347 Taiwan students in 2018. Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and New Zealand were also popular among Taiwanese students. Most students choose to go to the US to attend a degree, certificate, or language program. In contrast, most Australia-bound students take part in working holiday programs. Canada and Japan offer similar visas to allow Taiwan citizens to work and study in short-term programs.


Indonesia is a notable emerging market and is recognized as one of the world’s most significant emerging economies due to its rapid GDP growth and large population. Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world with a population of over 272 million people in 2020. The country’s population is dominated by the youth, with more than 50% being under 30 years old. With this demographic as well as its large and quickly growing middle class, Indonesia offers great potential for international recruitment. 


Over six years, Indonesian international students have increased by 21%. According to UNESCO, approximately 45,000 Indonesian students were studying abroad in 2017. In 2018, about one-third of these were studying in China. One of the reasons why China has been the top university destination was due to the full scholarship offers for Indonesians. Even though 95% of Indonesian international students are self-funded, scholarships are regarded as a strong incentive.


Poring over student interest, Indonesian students were primarily focused on Business & Management programs, followed by Social Sciences. Among the disciplines with the most promising market opportunities, the following stand out: Entrepreneurship, Supply Chain Management, International Development, Sustainable Energy, Energy & Power Engineering, Mining, Gas & Oil, as well as Sustainable Development, and Hydrology & Water Management.


Malaysian students have always been enthusiastic to study abroad. The country’s Ministry of Higher Education reported that in 2019, over 70,000 Malaysian students were studying abroad. Among the many reasons cited by Malaysian students for why they prefer to seek higher education overseas are having a chance to immerse themselves in foreign cultures, being able to network with global peers, and getting the chance to study in the world’s top universities.


Nepal has a population of around 28 million people with a median age of 21.6 years and a middle class that has grown to almost a quarter of the entire population. It has a rapidly growing young population, with the British Council estimating that the country will be among the top 10 for population growth in the 18-22 age bracket in the next decade. This is a point reinforced by the limited provision in Nepal at the moment. Only 1% of the country’s university campuses offer PhD-level classes, which suggests that many postgraduate students will also need to look abroad despite the country having one of the highest proportions of postgraduate-seeking students in the region.


Bangladesh continues to show its potential as one of the most important emerging markets for study abroad. It is the eighth-most populous country in the world, with nearly half of its 160 million citizens under the age of 24. Two strong indicators of demand for study abroad, the economy and the country’s middle class, are both expanding fast. Over the last decade, GDP growth has averaged 6.5% per year, and the middle class is anticipated to nearly triple to roughly 35 million people by 2025. We will have to look and see how the pandemic will affect these figures.


At any rate, these are the conditions that have driven continuing growth in outbound student mobility over the past decade. UNESCO reports that there were just over 60,000 Bangladeshi students enrolled in tertiary studies abroad in 2017. More than half of those chose to study in Malaysia. The traditional study destinations – the US, UK, Australia, and Canada – have also welcomed growing numbers of Bangladeshi students in recent years.


Turkey’s population of 82 million is relatively young when compared with many other countries. Over 30 percent of the population is under the age of eighteen. This young population provides considerable opportunities for international student recruitment. The Institute of International Education’s Open Doors 2020 Statistics show that Turkey, with its 9,481 students, is the 15th leading place of origin for students in the US. About half of the Turkish students in US universities are studying for their graduate degrees. 


According to the Turkish Fulbright Commission, which is part of the Education USA network of the Department of State, the most popular fields of study chosen by Turkish students planning to study abroad are engineering, computer science, business administration, economics (especially MBA programs in finance, marketing, and international business), social sciences, humanities, and arts, mass communications, and medicine and other medical fields. 

What’s in it for HEIs

The wellspring of students that China and India offer is not going to dry out anytime soon but with all the uncertainties at present, it would be best if institutions will start to explore other student markets and open their doors to more learners from new and interesting cultures.

Knowing which nations have a growing number of prospective international students is one step to changing the game of student recruitment. Through this, HEIs can truly attain a diversified student community with boundless opportunities for learning while shaping the leaders of the next generations.


Aware of the present challenges in the international education scene, MSM will continue to provide useful and relevant information that can help institutions see beyond the pandemic and get ahead in strategizing a more welcoming academic community to the world’s learners. (SUNEETHA QURESHI)

#PartnerForLife #InternationalEducation #InternationalStudents #MSM #GlobalEducationForAll

MSM VP Global Suneetha Qureshi

MSM President-Global Marketing Office (GMO)

Suneetha has more than 10 years of experience in the international education sector. As president of MSM GMO, she fortifies its business development outreach globally, particularly in the face of MSM’s foray in edtech-based recruitment via MSM Unify. She preserves the premium, value-adding services provided to each GMO partner institution, including dedicated teams on the ground, agent management, lead generation and inquiry management, application pre-screening, and student and parent support through pioneering pre-departure briefing sessions.


She has an impeccable track record of successfully launching the representative offices in Asia and Africa of many North American and European higher education institutions. Her key strengths include hiring, training, and developing teams as evidenced by the successful results of the dedicated in-country college and university client teams.

Suneetha also has taken the lead in developing several initiatives at MSM, including building robust standard operating procedures, the Rise ‘n Shine team engagement platform, and the organization’s data analytics and audit segments.



Emerging student markets in South and South East Asia. QS. https://www.qs.com/emerging-student-markets-in-south-and-south-east-asia/.


Education in Nigeria. WENR. (2021, September 1). https://wenr.wes.org/2017/03/education-in-nigeria.


ICEF. (2018). From the field: Vietnam’s growing middle class fueling demand for study abroad. Retrieved from https://monitor.icef.com/2018/01/vietnams-growing-middle-class-fueling-demand-study-abroad/


New report describes SHIFTING NIGERIAN demand for study abroad. ICEF Monitor – Market intelligence for international student recruitment. (2021, February 11). https://monitor.icef.com/2021/02/new-report-describes-shifting-nigerian-demand-for-study-abroad/.


Taiwan – Education. export.gov. (n.d.). https://www.export.gov/apex/article2?id=Taiwan Education#:~:text=According%20to%20statistics%20from%20the,of%20Taiwan%20students%20going%20abroad


The factors driving growth in Bangladeshi outbound. ICEF Monitor – Market intelligence for international student recruitment. (2020, March 5). https://monitor.icef.com/2018/03/factors-driving-growth-bangladeshi-outbound/.


Turkey – education. International Trade Administration | Trade.gov. https://www.trade.gov/knowledge-product/turkey-education.


UNESCO IUS. (n.d.). Global Flow of Tertiary-Level Students. Retrieved May 28, 2020, from http://uis.unesco.org/en/uis-student-flow 


Varrella, S. (2021, February 18). Africa: GDP, by country 2020. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1120999/gdp-of-african-countries-by-country/. 


World Population Review. (n.d.). Indonesia Population 2020. Retrieved May 28, 2020, from http://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/indonesia-population/​


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