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Facts and Trends: Tapping Into the Latin American International Student Market

Latin America has always been a rich source of international students who go to major study destinations around the globe. According to World Education News and Reviews, Latin America accounts for more than seven percent of international student enrollments in universities and colleges in the United States between 2015-2016. 


Considering LatAm student market growth trends before and even during the pandemic, we will try to discover more about the students from this region and their motivations for studying abroad. This will help recruitment agents and HEIs in making informed decisions and strategies to meet the needs and support the aspirations of LatAm global learners. 

Key Takeaways:

  • From 2015-2016, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela are among the top 25 sending markets to the United States
  • A 2019 UNESCO-IESALC study revealed that 54% of surveyed LatAm students chose North America or Western Europe as their preferred destination for overseas study
  • Most LatAm global learners in the undergraduate and graduate programs prefer business, management, engineering, and accounting and finance programs, and aspire to develop skills such as leadership, problem-solving, teamwork, and communication
  • Outbound mobility in Latin America and the Caribbean went up by 58% between 2012 and 2017
  • The rise of a transparency-driven edtech platform helps recruitment agents in the region to collaborate efficiently with the top four preferred HEIs among LatAm students, including  Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States


LatAm Student Market Growth

From 2015-2016, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela, are among the top 25 sending markets to the United States. The growing student market in the Latin American region led some higher education institutions in key international education destinations, such as Australia, to double their efforts in recruiting students from there.


Meanwhile, a 2019 UNESCO-IESALC study revealed that 54% of surveyed LatAm students chose North America or Western Europe as their preferred destination for overseas study. In turn, a survey by the Institute of International Education shows that higher education institutions (HEIs) in the United States are committed to supporting international students who are attending their universities be it in person or online.


According to a position paper sent to the Colombia-based Canadian Education Trade Commission that was prepared by David Arango, MSM’s Regional Sales Head in Latin America, Brazil and Colombia are among the top countries in the region with students interested in pursuing education overseas.

Preferences, goals, aspirations, and motivations

More than the quality of education and compatibility to their own culture, student applicants from the Latin American region aim to pursue studies abroad for a lot of other reasons. According to Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), one of the most attractive features of study destinations in the US and Europe is diversity, which is currently lacking in most of LatAm’s HEIs. Another motivation is the prestige of receiving education in the US or Europe.


In the same paper by QS, it has been revealed that LatAm applicants’ motivations vary per degree level. Undergraduate (66%) and master’s degree (72%) applicants, for instance, are motivated by the prospects of progressing to a higher level of qualification. Meanwhile, those pursuing doctoral studies are motivated by the hopes of earning capability to pursue a career in the academe (57%).


In terms of preferred disciplines, there is little difference in the top choices. Undergraduate (22%), master’s (35%), and doctorate (20%) applicants are all keen on pursuing business or management programs. 


It is good to note, however, that the top three preferred programs of undergraduate and master’s degree student applicants are business or management, engineering, and accounting and finance. The top three preferences among doctorate applicants, on the other hand, are business or management, engineering, and economics and econometrics.


Other preferred programs also include education, nursing, information technology, as well as trades programs.


With regard to skills development aspirations, most of the applicants for undergraduate and master’s programs believe that the top three skills valued by employers are problem-solving (46%, 45%), leadership (44%, 39%), and teamwork (38%, 44%). Meanwhile, doctorate program applicants think it is leadership (42%), teamwork (40%), and communication (36%).


The reputation of an institution in a certain subject area or the overall institution of a college or university is also among the top considerations of student applicants across higher education levels. 

Barriers, prospects, opportunities

Economic uncertainty, language barriers, and visa policies are among the roadblocks that LatAm international students have faced. 


According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, the region will have positive economic growth in 2021. This, however, will not be enough to recover the pre-pandemic state of economic activity.


Considering this, it is safe to expect that students coming from the region will remain conservative in terms of spending. An opportunity for HEIs is to strategically raise awareness about financial aids, scholarships, and programs.


In fact, even prior to the global health crisis, the primary source of funding among LatAm applicants across undergraduate (67%), master’s (65%), and doctorate (79%) levels have been scholarships. An alternative for HEIs may be to offer cheaper forms of programs such as certificate and diploma programs.


Additionally, funding is also a key consideration in the choice of institutions. Among undergraduate (50%) and doctorate (54%) student applicants, funding is a top priority. Among applicants of master’s programs, funding is the second priority.


Among undergraduate student applicants, however, the cost is a key consideration although in different contexts. While 50% of applicants’ top concern is funding, there are 34% that choose institutions based on the cost of the programs compared to other institutions. 


Additionally, HEIs in Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States– the top four preferred destinations of LatAm students– may maximize digital presence to establish access to potential student applicants. In the 2018 survey by QS, student applicants across all higher education levels cited general online search, official website, and rankings as top sources of information.


Apart from the top four preferred destinations mentioned above, other areas that are gaining attention from LatAm students include Canadian provinces such as Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan.


In terms of language barriers, many LatAm students find it difficult to ace IELTS exams. Fortunately, many of the top destinations for study abroad offer ESL pathway programs. These include courses that help students build skills, knowledge, and qualifications that are required in enrolling for a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Student mobility and migration rights

A pre-pandemic paper by campusfrance.org stated that outbound mobility in Latin America and the Caribbean went up by 58% between 2012 and 2017. Meanwhile, around 31% choose to study in Europe, specifically in the European Union (30%) and Spain (9%), while 28% head to North America and 29% travel elsewhere in the region.


In the United States, further growth in international students including those from Latin American countries may be expected. This is due to the more friendly immigration policies that are part of the Joe Biden administration’s agenda.


For instance, the Homeland Security Department has proposed a rule to establish a fixed time period of admission and extension of stay procedure for foreign information media and international students. This includes both non-immigrant academic students and exchange visitors.

Rise of edtech-supported transparency among education agents

The blossoming student market in the Latin America region is not without its thorns. News about double-dipping among education agents surfaced. This has opened the need for a transparency-based edtech solution where HEIs and student recruitment agents can collaborate transparently.


M Square Media’s Global Marketing Office (MSM GMO) model, for instance, is powered by a data-driven business solutions platform where HEIs gain dedicated satellite teams in a certain area for market entry. A model like this helps them execute marketing strategies remotely with the help of education agents who are in the MSM GMO network.


On the education agents’ end, MSM GMO provides them with training, live sessions, and tools so they can help HEIs in recruiting highly qualified students. Despite having full access to AI-powered resources, agents in the MSM GMO network receive their commissions from HEIs in full.


All things considered, there is a healthy outlook in recruiting Latin American students. Through digital and data-driven solutions that provide satellite presence in regions such as Latin America, HEIs may benefit from having on-the-ground dedicated teams to expand communications to potentially qualified students. (SUNEETHA QURESHI)


#PartnerForLife #GlobalEducationForAll #InternationalEducation #InternationalStudents #MSM


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.


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