The Corner

China’s Share of Foreign Students in the U.S. Declines, India’s Rises

Students walk at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, N.C., September 20, 2018. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

Higher education remains a powerful American export that can deepen international ties to the benefit of Americans.

Sign in here to read more.

Hard as it may be to believe sometimes, foreigners still consider American universities to be among the best in the world. The number of foreign students in the U.S., at just over 1 million, has essentially recovered from its decline during the pandemic, the Washington Post reports. But the composition of the foreign student body is different.

With the exception of a handful of universities in the U.K., foreigners with the means to do so almost always want to send their children to American universities. This includes people who live in China, despite the country’s adversarial relationship with the United States. China is the largest sender of foreign students to the U.S., as it has been for years, with 290,000 Chinese students enrolled at American universities in the 2022–23 school year.

Coming in at a close second, though, and rising rapidly, is India. In 2022–23, 269,000 foreign students were from India. That’s about 100,000 higher than it was two years ago. The number of Chinese students has declined by about 30,000 over that period.

The graph below shows the percentage of foreign students in the U.S. from China and from India since 1999, according to data from the Institute for International Education.

The shares were roughly the same — between 10 and 15 percent of all foreign students — with India’s often slightly higher, until 2009–10, when China started to pull ahead. China’s share increased until 2013–14, when it plateaued between 31 and 35 percent. Then, since 2020–21, China’s share has fallen sharply, and India’s share has risen to meet it. At this pace, India’s share would surpass China’s next year.

There’s a giant gap between India and third-place South Korea, which sent 44,000 students to American universities in 2022–23. The next countries, in order, are Canada, Vietnam, Taiwan, Nigeria, Japan, and Brazil.

None of these countries, except China, is an adversary of the United States. Several are strong adversaries of China. Higher education remains a powerful American export that can deepen international ties to the benefit of Americans. Proposals to restrict the number of foreign students should keep that in mind.

Foreign students also benefit universities by being some of their only customers who pay full price for their products. Universities list sticker prices that few Americans actually pay, given the amount of scholarships, grants, and financial aid available in the U.S. Admissions offices exist in large part to perform price discrimination, figuring out how much people are willing or able to pay and individualizing the price based on those constraints. Foreign students aren’t eligible for financial aid in the same way U.S. students are, and they often come from rich families who aren’t price-sensitive anyway, so they pay full price.

Expect the number of Indian students in the U.S. to continue to rise. India has already surpassed China as the world’s most populous country, and it will likely have the world’s third-largest economy by the end of the decade. Indian foreign policy increasingly views the U.S. as a partner in world affairs. Economic ties and defense cooperation between the U.S. and India are strengthening. More Indians are becoming wealthy and have the means to send their children abroad for college. All of these factors combine to suggest that the incentives for Indians to study in the U.S., and their ability to do so, will continue to increase.

Dominic Pino is the Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow at National Review Institute.
You have 1 article remaining.
You have 2 articles remaining.
You have 3 articles remaining.
You have 4 articles remaining.
You have 5 articles remaining.
Exit mobile version