Why do colleges want international students so much?

Money.  That’s the biggest reason, but there are several others. Let’s take a look.

We will start first with the money.  Since most international students pay full fees for college overseas, this comes to a huge amount in colleges that attract many international students.  One good place to see this in action is Australia, a country that is very popular with international students.

According to International Advisory Council,international students (tuition and living expenses) are Australia’s third largest source of overseas revenue.  Yes, third.  This is only topped by  “iron ore and coal.”  In numbers, Australia got 18.6 billion dollars (Australian)  from overseas students in 2009-2010.  Yes, 18 billion dollars!

That is a big amount, on par with many company profits.2683260418_89bc4af1f6_z

(For reference, the US makes 22 billion dollars, but has many more colleges.  The Australian dollar is now about the same as the US one, but in 2010 was about 90 cents.)

Granted, Australia is a small country in terms of population with just over 22 million people, with 20% of Australians born overseas.  That makes for a lot of space, in a country with loads of lovely beaches, that is mostly safe, people speak English fairly well, and  are notoriously friendly to people from overseas.

And, well, think about it . . . who would not want to study in Australia?

Back to benefits.

For the university, having a large number of international students is prestige.

It clearly shows that going to this college is so desirable that people will travel to do so from other countries.  (No small feat, of course.)  This is a cycle–prestigious schools get lots of international students and international students want to go to prestigious schools.

For many universities, a large number or percentage of international students shows quality.  If a student from Asia or Europe is willing to travel to the other side of the world to attend your university, it must be good.  He or she has decided to attend your college instead of one in his own homeland.  It must be good.

Some other benefits are not so obvious.  We must not overlook the benefits of having foreign professors.  Foreign professors, or rather foreign-born or foreign-educated professors, bring in exotic viewpoints, other skills, and new experiences that create a rich blend in the college.  This is important because most students of course go to college somewhere close to their homes, around 80-90% according to college express, a college research site.

2545794415_33926cd08dPhoto by John Murray

When I was in college, long ago perhaps, I had several foreign professors, and each had a unique point-of-view and experiences that were very different from those of most the American professors that taught me.  It improved my education and I am thankful for that.

Now, I teach in Japan.  When I taught at university here, how many foreign professors do you think I saw?  One.  Me.  Was the education the students get in Japan at most universities rich and varied?

No.  In fact, it is well-known to be generally poor.

The main reasons are beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say that most of Japan’s colleges are private, which means that with a population decline they have to recruit students who pay most of their own tuition.  The universities do not want to fail these students, since their pool of applicants is so small, and they college cannot survive without them, which results in low and sliding lower standards.  For more detail on this problem, I suggest Mr. Kariya’s excellent article.

This poor education may be beside the point I am trying to make about variety. However, foreign professors are traditionally treated badly here in Japan, a fact that has been written about in some detail, which only contributes to a mono-cultural society in the university.


This is a great loss for the students.  A mono-cultural environment is something that colleges must avoid like a virus.

This is best shown through an example.  When I was in Elmira College, years ago, I remember taking a current events class. We had regular discussions, and we gave our opinions.  A girl from Germany talked about the news from her point of view.  A boy from Japan also.  We had some lively discussions with a very opinionated girl from Hong Kong, and so on.  Of all the many classes I took, this one stands out in my mind.  Why?


This brings me to the second point.  Internationalization.  Yes, it is a buzz word, but it goes for the university and the students as well.  Browse the Facebook pages of college students nowadays and you will notice something.  I see it in many of my friends.  Many of their “friends” are not from the US or their home country.  Most college students these days have “friends” from many countries in the world.  This kind of exposure and relationships is true also of professors and professionals here in universities.

These ties and relationships last a long time.  They plug us in to people and their experiences all over the world.  Look at China these days.  It’s in the news all the time.  Easy to hate, perhaps, but who does not know someone from China?  Most of us have at least met Chinese exchange students.  Sometimes Chinese professors.  The same is true of India.

This variety is why international students and professors are vital.  When I think of China now, for some reason that student that I met many years ago comes up in my mind.  When I see news about floods in India or terrorism, I wonder if those guys who I became friends with are okay.  When I went to England, I made sure to look up the guy that I used to live across the hall from my dorm room, and when I came to Japan, I met some of my professors.  These are the kind of benefits internationalization brings to colleges–human ones.