The Value of International Education:
International Student Contribution to the Economy of Top Destination Countries

What is the value of international education? It depends on who you ask.Going to a foreign country in higher education institutions (HEI) with proven quality improves their employability. It also broadens their horizons, giving international students a cosmopolitan outlook that will stand them well in a global economy.


For HEIs, international students introduce diversity into their student population, making their campuses a vibrant community. International students are also a valuable resource, bringing in talent to benefit the scientific and research community.


However, international education also has its practical side. International students contribute significantly to a country’s economy, especially for top destination countries such as the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia. Their contribution extends beyond the tuition fees they pay and the jobs they create for HEIs. They spend money on rent, food, transport, and entertainment in their host countries, and they also bring in friends and family members, which bring in revenue as tourists.


The considerable extent to which international students increase revenue for host countries largely accounts for massive efforts by the respective governments to attract them to their borders. How much do international students contribute to a country’s economy? Let’s take a quick look.


Key Takeaways

  • International students contribute between 1% and 2% to the GDP of the US, UK, Canada, and Australia
  • The UK and Canada are less dependent on international students than the US and Australia in terms of GDP
  • The US and Australia have been lackluster in their efforts to accommodate international students in 2021



International student contribution to the GDP

Because of the upheaval to the international education sector caused by lockdowns and travel restrictions since 2019, there are very few sources of reliable information about the actual revenues they brought in. To effectively compare the overall contributions of international students in each country, I looked at the most current figures on revenues and calculated those against the GDP for each nation for the relevant year.





Now, 1% to 2% might not seem like a lot, but those represent billions in revenue and hundreds of thousands of jobs. To put it in context, international students brought in $38.7 billion and supported 415,996 jobs in the US alone. Put another way, the “healthy GDP growth” for a country per year is between 2% and 3%. In other words, losing a substantial portion of their international student population represents a substantial deficit for that country. 


Comparing apples and apples

The reason I made a comparison of these four countries is to get an idea of their dependence on international students from an economic perspective. Interestingly, both the US and Australia have the most to lose yet have made less effort to bring back international students than the UK and Canada. 


The UK, for instance, has multiple programs for engaging international students, particularly from India. Most international students perceive Canada as welcoming and affordable, which is perhaps why it is now the most popular country as a study destination.


On the other hand, the US and Australia appear to be pumping the brakes on efforts to recover from the slump in their international student numbers. The US recently came under fire for continuing its alleged ban on Chinese students, both new and ongoing, implemented initially under the Trump administration. Australia has previously had a start-stop attitude towards programs to allow international students back in the country, although it seems that might change soon


Final Thoughts

There is no denying that international students go to foreign countries for their own benefit, and it is also a fact that HEIs encourage these students to come because they pay more than domestic students. The symbiotic relationship will exist no matter the host country, so it would be in the best interest of these destination countries to realize that.  International students always have the option to choose another country to bring their money and talent. HEIs and their agents can only do so much. (SUNEETHA QURESHI)

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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