In response to declining international student enrollments on college campuses in the United States, higher education institutions are recognizing the need to identify new recruitment opportunities. Four countries in South Asia—Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan—are worth a closer look. All four have sent growing numbers of international students to the U.S. since 2015/16, bucking broader trends (see Figure 1)
Moreover, all four have large and growing youth populations and burgeoning economies, which bodes well in terms of the countries prospects as pipelines for international students over the long term. This article looks at the potential of these four emerging markets, and offers advice and insights from international enrollment management professionals.
Nepal’s growth as a sending country
In general, growing numbers of Nepalese students are going abroad: 44,255 pursued their college education outside of Nepal last year, according to the most recent data estimates from UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). Thirty-three percent went to Australia; other top destination countries included India, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Finland. About 18 percent of outbound Nepalese students went to the U.S.
This growth trend has been upward for the past five years, since 2012 when 29,460 Nepalese students left their home country to pursue their education. The number has gone up nearly every year—increasing by nearly 15,000 students in 2017, as estimated by UIS.
Driving this demand for higher education are the usual suspects: an expanding economy (the Asian Development Bank projects that Nepal’s gross domestic product (GDP) will increase by 4.9 percent in 2018 and 5.5 percent in 2019), a massive youth population, and an inadequate higher education system. As noted in the April 2018 issue of this publication, “The country’s population is becoming more affluent and is growing—the government expects the population to increase from 29 million to 33.6 million by 2031.“
Nepalese newspapers including the Kathmandu Post—along with some research findings—suggest that a domestic failure to tie higher education to employment outcomes may also be at play. “… many of our students obtain degrees not knowing what to do after graduation,” the Post noted in a 2017 opinion piece that explores the trend of Nepalese students going abroad and the need to bring them back.