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10 Years of IIE Study Abroad Data

Megan Lee
Megan Lee

Megan is an international educator, traveler, and writer. She has led study abroad programs in China and the South Pacific.

We prize the yearly release of the IIE Open Doors data for the snapshot it provides, but what about the longer-term picture from the past decade? How has the popularity of studying in different regions of the world grown relative to others? Over the course of six months, Go Overseas, with the help of an outside data analyst, took a close look at US students abroad from 2002 to 2011, the most recent year for which IIE data is available. International educators know the general trends, but we wanted to dive deeper into the regional data from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. Understanding these trends will help us serve our students even better.

Studying abroad is more popular than ever. Despite a global recession in 2008/09 from which we are still recovering, the total number of US students abroad grew 70% over the decade, while total US college enrollment grew 26%. More than a quarter of a million students now study abroad each year, representing 1.3% of the total US student population.

The recession hurt. After six years of 8% growth, the number of US students studying abroad fell 1% in 2009. Positive growth returned in 2010, but not back to the prior rate.

Students are spreading out. The more traditionally popular regions of Western Europe, Mexico, and Australia have given way to a wider array of destinations. All regions grew, but Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe skyrocketed. In terms of sheer numbers, Europe still dominates, with more students than all other locations combined (55%). However, the growth rate from '02-'11 was 2nd lowest among all regions. The rest of the world is catching up.

Areas Covered in the Report (click to jump):

Report Methodology

Analysis and graphics for this report were created by Leaf and Square Consulting, a data-consulting firm helping companies get the most out of their data through advanced analytics and visualization. Learn more at leafandsquare.com.

Data for this report came from the 2012 Institute of International Education Open Doors Report on International Education Exchange and the National Center for Education Statistics.

We tried to stay as true to the IIE report methodology as possible, but in some instances it was necessary to modify our approach or aggregate data in a different way. A few notes:

  • "Years" in our report refer to the academic year ending.
  • In general, for countries that changed names or political boundaries during the time period covered in the report, data from years prior to the changes were updated to match the most recent assignment from IIE for consistency.
  • Exceptions: Egypt was reassigned from Africa to the Middle East. Turkey is assigned to the Middle East for the global report and shown regionally in both the Europe and Middle East reports.
  • Students traveling to multiple destinations, a significant group, were excluded from our report due to a lack of detailed destination information.
  • Students classified as "Unspecified" to a particular region in the IIE report were spread proportionally to the countries in that region.

Data and reports may be downloaded as a Tableau Packaged Workbook by following the link underneath the charts. Further inquiries about the data or methodologies may be directed to [email protected].

Study Abroad in Africa: 2002-2011

Africa has grown fast (192%) over the past decade, but still makes up less than 5% of US students abroad. Rapid growth from 2004-2010 cooled in 2011 due to slowdowns in the popular destinations of South Africa, Ghana, and Kenya. Central and East African nations continue to see strong growth, even if their overall numbers are still small.

What’s been happening:
  • Western Africa, with the exception of Ghana, has generated less student interest and hosts fewer U.S. students studying abroad than the rest of the continent.
  • Of the top 5 countries in Africa hosting U.S. study abroad students, 80% cite English as a national language, indicating foreign language acquisition is not a prime motivator for these students.

* Note: For the purposes of our study Egypt is included in the Middle East region.

Ian Hefele, MENA and North Africa Counselor at SIT Study Abroad

“As many African countries gain stronger democratic governments, they are going to be in better positions to accept study abroad students from the States, so I expect an upward trend of student enrollment. Africa holds so many diverse locations that can appeal to a broad spectrum of American students. It has a very 'raw' aspect to life that many study abroad students haven't seen before.

Political tensions are easing, communications are improving - even to the remotest parts of Africa, and Africa is getting noticed more from American media. As revolutions and civil wars happen-especially in the north of the continent-student populations shift and will continue to shift. Unfortunately, I think social fads such as Kony 2012 also have an influence on the situation. In the end, Africa's best asset is her people and how they communicate with the rest of the world.”

Linda Raven, Program Director at the Center for Global Education

“College is a good time for developing critical thinking skills, questioning the assumptions you have about the world, and learning to look for the deeper story behind what appears to be true at first glance. My personal experience is that there are a lot of misconceptions about the continent of Africa. By visiting one or more countries on the continent, staying with host families, forming friendships with people from here, it provides a perfect context for honing those critical thinking skills.

You are able to ask yourself, "What did I assume about this place before I arrived?" "What did I assume was happening my first few days here?" and as you get to know the people and the country on a deeper and more intimate level, more layers of complexity will continue to be revealed to you. I've lived in Namibia for 9 years and still don't "understand" what's happening, but I have a much better understanding than before I came. Its a large diverse continent, where many of the things you assume about it based on various media images are both true and not true. Its deep complexity makes it an amazing place to challenge your assumptions about Africa, the world, and yourself.”

Blessing Shingi Mavima, Executive Director at CLUBHOUSE International

“The popularity of African study abroad destinations seem to (not surprisingly) correlate to their economic and socio-political stability. While different regions on the continent have undergone and continue to go through their periods of tribulation, there appears to be a well-distributed regional representation in top study abroad destinations. South Africa remains a prime destination. A young democracy, post-apartheid South Africa continues to blossom economically and socially, despite going through challenges typical to the continent.

Their cosmopolitan areas rival the finest in the world, the national institutions still run pretty well, and the FIFA World Cup held 3 years ago was nothing short of a success- both in itself and in its after-effects (tourism, revenue etc.) In Northern Africa, Morocco's star shines as bright. Its proximity to Europe (8 miles away from Spain), Middle Eastern culture and African location makes it just an intellectual and tourism feast. While the Middle East/North African region was recently shaken by the 'Arab Spring' (possibly explaining Egypt's decline in popularity as a study abroad destination despite being a prime spot in the past), Morocco was noticeably unshaken, and thus cemented its place as the go-to nation in the region.

While the North/South top destinations have historically been go-to places, the eastern and western destinations are more representative of Africa's new face. on the Western Coast, Ghana has found recent popularity as it provides a perfect balance between the necessary social and political stability and the raw parts of Africa that foreigners enjoy (wildlife sanctuaries, strong indigenous communities.) On the East, Kenya and Tanzania seem to mirror Ghana's economic and social merits, but provide visitors with an even more scenic environment, boasting some of the world's finest wildlife parks. Furthermore, students often get the opportunity to work hands-on with local communities on cutting edge scientific and social projects.”

Source: Institute of International Education. (2012). "Profile of U.S. Study Abroad Students, 2000/01-2010/11." Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. Retrieved from http://www.iie.org/opendoors.

Report Methodology

Analysis and graphics for this report were created by Leaf and Square Consulting, a data-consulting firm helping companies get the most out of their data through advanced analytics and visualization. Learn more at leafandsquare.com.

Data for this report came from the 2012 Institute of International Education Open Doors Report on International Education Exchange and the National Center for Education Statistics.

We tried to stay as true to the IIE report methodology as possible, but in some instances it was necessary to modify our approach or aggregate data in a different way. A few notes:

  • "Years" in our report refer to the academic year ending.
  • In general, for countries that changed names or political boundaries during the time period covered in the report, data from years prior to the changes were updated to match the most recent assignment from IIE for consistency.
  • Exceptions: Egypt was reassigned from Africa to the Middle East. Turkey is assigned to the Middle East for the global report and shown regionally in both the Europe and Middle East reports.
  • Students traveling to multiple destinations, a significant group, were excluded from our report due to a lack of detailed destination information.
  • Students classified as "Unspecified" to a particular region in the IIE report were spread proportionally to the countries in that region.

Study Abroad in Asia: 2002-2011

Asia has gone from minor destination to major player on the study abroad stage. The number of students traveling to Asia grew 194% from 2002 to 2011 and now makes up 12% of global study. However, growth slowed and 2011 saw the first drop in students to the region since 2003. China has been the region's main destination, hosting 45% of students and driving much of the growth. The Subcontinent, SE Asia, and Korea all saw strong growth during the decade as well, but the trend was countered in 2011 by a significant downturn in Japan.

What’s been happening:
  • The inception of the 100k Strong Initiative in 2009 may have helped China may have stave off a decline felt by much of the world.
  • Strong, steady growth in India was interrupted in 2009 following the Mumbai bombings, but resumed the following year.
  • Japan saw a decline in students of 33% in 2011 following the Tohoku Earthquake. The 4,100 students were the fewest since 2004.
  • Strong growth in Thailand through 2007 was quieted by 2010, likely due to political unrest. South Korea and Vietnam seem to have avoided slowdowns in 2011 that affected much of the region.
  • In 2002, only China and Japan made the list of top 25 global destinations. Ten years later, South Korea and India joined.
Damien Tomkins, Asia Affairs Specialist at East-West Center

“I imagine that more U.S. students are going to study abroad in Asia as that region’s economic development continues. Already as highlighted on our AsiaMatterforAmerica.org initiative, U.S. students going to study in India over the past ten years has been on an upward trend. US Students Studying in India Show Strong Ten-Year Upward Growth.

In addition, President Obama’s 100,000 Initiative is intended to increase the number of U.S. studying in China as is Stephen A. Schwarzman recent announcement of the $300 billion Schwarzman Scholars program to encourage U.S. students to study in China. Other countries including Indonesia, Australia, Thailand, Singapore, Japan and South Korea could all potentially receive heightened focus for U.S. students studying abroad.

The strongest element to influencing students’ interest and ability to study in Asia is increased recognition amongst policy makers, universities, businesses and students of the importance of Asia. Once this is achieved, the opportunities are almost infinite: for business students Asia is the prime global locale for emerging markets; for language students there is the option to study a myriad of languages; for international and political science students there is the opportunity to study regional institutional building, peace and conflict prevention mechanisms, evolution of democracy; for humanities students there are anthropological studies, environmental studies, ancient and modern religions, the list goes on...”

Carl Jaramillo, CEO and Founder of Minds Abroad

“In all other regions of the world, when you talk about study abroad there are several contenders for the top spot. In Europe, there is the UK, France, Italy and Spain. In Latin America, there is Mexico, Argentina, and Costa Rica. However in Asia, there is really only one giant – China. The next largest countries, Japan and India, receives less than 30% as many students as China. In fact the rest of the Asia region combined really equals a similar number of study abroad students as China alone. So when we talk about the future of study abroad in Asia we’re really talking about the future of study abroad in China.

Actually one thing contributing to the growth in China over the last decade was an event that happened in the summer after the 2002/2003 school year concluded. At that time there an outbreak of SARS which hit China hard. This caused a drop in students in the 2002/2003 school year. But soon China bounced back. So much of the growth after 2003 (say from 2003 to 2006) wasn’t actually real growth. It was more over a recovery for the dramatic drop in students in 2003. Of course, the hurricane in Japan resulted in a major drop in students there that year, and political turmoil in Thailand a few years ago also resulted in a drop in students to Thailand.

The growth of China’s economy, and the subsequent media attention, has been fueling the growing of study abroad in China. Just as Chinese economy rises, the number of students studying abroad in China continues to rise. Japan has experience the opposite trend. Just as Japan’s economy has continued to struggle, enrollment in Japanese programs has grown much more slowly. India has been enjoying similar growth and media attention as China, though not to the degree of China. So India has been experiencing similar growth. Over the last ten years India has been among the fastest growing study abroad destinations (though from a very low base to begin with). If India can continue this kind of growth remains to be seen. India has structural problems which may limit the number of students who enroll. This includes poor infrastructure and extreme heat in the summer.”

Source: Institute of International Education. (2012). "Profile of U.S. Study Abroad Students, 2000/01-2010/11." Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. Retrieved from http://www.iie.org/opendoors.

Report Methodology

Analysis and graphics for this report were created by Leaf and Square Consulting, a data-consulting firm helping companies get the most out of their data through advanced analytics and visualization. Learn more at leafandsquare.com.

Data for this report came from the 2012 Institute of International Education Open Doors Report on International Education Exchange and the National Center for Education Statistics.

We tried to stay as true to the IIE report methodology as possible, but in some instances it was necessary to modify our approach or aggregate data in a different way. A few notes:

  • "Years" in our report refer to the academic year ending.
  • In general, for countries that changed names or political boundaries during the time period covered in the report, data from years prior to the changes were updated to match the most recent assignment from IIE for consistency.
  • Exceptions: Egypt was reassigned from Africa to the Middle East. Turkey is assigned to the Middle East for the global report and shown regionally in both the Europe and Middle East reports.
  • Students traveling to multiple destinations, a significant group, were excluded from our report due to a lack of detailed destination information.
  • Students classified as "Unspecified" to a particular region in the IIE report were spread proportionally to the countries in that region.

Study Abroad in Europe: 2002-2011

True to the global trend, less-visited destinations in Europe showed higher growth rates. Turkey and southeastern Europe grew more than tenfold, while traditionally popular destinations like France and the UK did not keep pace with the global average. Of the more traditionally popular countries, those in central and northern Europe led growth.

What’s been happening:
  • The 2008/09 recession hit Europe hard, spurring a 4% decline from the prior year. 3% year-over-year growth returned in 2010 and 2011, but well below the pre-recession rate of 6%.
  • The UK, the most popular destination, saw its share slowly decline over the decade, from 19% of global students in 2002 to 12% in 2011. 33,000 US students studied in the UK in 2011, up 10% from a decade prior, but well under the pace of both total US student enrollment growth and study abroad growth.
  • Central and Northern Europe, led by popular destinations Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic bolstered European growth, nearly doubling over the decade.
  • Turkey has shown perhaps the most intriguing growth in the world during the 10-year period. It grew from fewer than 200 US students in 2002 to more than 2,000 in 2011. Marketing efforts by universities, a strong local economy, and a rich educational tradition have led to the increase, according to ICEF Monitor.
  • 10 of the 25 top destinations for study abroad are located in Europe.

* Note: For the purposes of our study, Turkey is shown in both Europe and the Middle East reports.

Angel (Chicho) Eguiluz Pacheco, Executive Vice President of European Operations at ISA

“Some decisive factors have contributed to a sustained growth in the field of study abroad in Europe. On the European end, there is a growing interest by European universities in the internationalization of their campuses. Further, continent-wide pushes, such as the Bologna process and the implementation of the ECTS, aims to boost studying in other countries and eases the process, overall increasing international student mobility within Europe.

European universities are increasing every year the number of courses taught in English, making them attractive to foreign students. From the American side, language is no longer the main driving; because a wider variety of courses taught in English are available, it is possible that American outgoing students increase to record high year after year. A student is no longer limited to his/her language competence to take university courses abroad. This has also opened new destinations (a former mentality of studying at the target language reduced greatly the number of candidates).

Further, there is an interest on the side of American universities in providing their students with the possibility of acquiring a status of global awareness, increasingly attractive if a student can continue his/her studies at an excellent European university. Traditionally, European universities are the ones competing with American universities in the top of university rankings. Students head to Europe due to the wide language and cultural diversity in a relatively reduced geographical space, and the long tradition and practice in some European countries in receiving foreign students makes it a fairly easy process.

In some cases, stagnation can be provoked by the price of of tuition for overseas students as in the case of UK. British universities are positioned positioned high in the rankings of universities but is also affected by the fact that European non English speaking countries are increasing the offer of courses taught in English. In other cases, economic uncertainty and perception of social unrest are behind the decrease in some countries such as Greece. New destinations in Africa or Asia have literally opened the map of studying abroad, diluting the student population that was once solely able to study in Europe, causing a decrease in overall student enrollment.”

Ben Strevens, Director of Communications at SAI Programs

“If history is any guide, the future of study abroad for U.S. students in Europe is very bright indeed! Over the course of the last decade we’ve seen a massive increase in overall international student mobility, of which study abroad is one piece.

Accordingly, more and more U.S. schools consider international experience to be a key feature of the well-rounded undergraduate education. While it’s true that many schools are redirecting their focus to non-Western European destinations (often referred to as “non-traditional” destinations), it’s safe to assume that Europe will continue to draw large numbers of U.S. students for the foreseeable future because of its rich tapestry of cultures and major historical significance.

In many respects, globalization has become the most significant single factor shaping the world we live in today. From education, to commerce, to migration, to the flow of capital –the people of the world are bound together today in ways that would have been unimaginable twenty years ago. Clearly, these dynamics have had both positive and negative consequences, but one unequivocal bright spot is the way in which ideas and information now transcend the borders between nation states. In a very real sense, knowledge is no longer bounded by geography.

Study abroad is one tangible manifestation of this global flow of knowledge. Prior to 2008, the IIE Open Doors Report showed double digit year-over-year increases in study abroad participation. Since 2008, that growth has fluctuated. The average number of students choosing to study abroad over the past five years has continued to expand, but at a slower pace than in the early 2000s. In my opinion, the financial crisis of 2008 was a major causative factor in this slowdown and it continues to impact overall participation rates in 2013. The good news is that, as the U.S. economy improves, there are signs that the growth in study abroad may return to pre-recession levels.”

Source: Institute of International Education. (2012). "Profile of U.S. Study Abroad Students, 2000/01-2010/11." Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. Retrieved from http://www.iie.org/opendoors.

Report Methodology

Analysis and graphics for this report were created by Leaf and Square Consulting, a data-consulting firm helping companies get the most out of their data through advanced analytics and visualization. Learn more at leafandsquare.com.

Data for this report came from the 2012 Institute of International Education Open Doors Report on International Education Exchange and the National Center for Education Statistics.

We tried to stay as true to the IIE report methodology as possible, but in some instances it was necessary to modify our approach or aggregate data in a different way. A few notes:

  • "Years" in our report refer to the academic year ending.
  • In general, for countries that changed names or political boundaries during the time period covered in the report, data from years prior to the changes were updated to match the most recent assignment from IIE for consistency.
  • Exceptions: Egypt was reassigned from Africa to the Middle East. Turkey is assigned to the Middle East for the global report and shown regionally in both the Europe and Middle East reports.
  • Students traveling to multiple destinations, a significant group, were excluded from our report due to a lack of detailed destination information.
  • Students classified as "Unspecified" to a particular region in the IIE report were spread proportionally to the countries in that region.

Study Abroad in Latin America: 2002-2011

Latin America is the destination of choice for 15% of all US students abroad, a proportion that has been flat for the decade. The region grew 70% from 2002 to 2011, the same rate as the average for the world. True to global trends, growth in Latin America came from smaller, less traditionally popular destinations.

What’s been happening:
  • Significant gains in enrollment in Costa Rica, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru have all but been offset by losses in Cuba (2005) and Mexico (2009), causing a growth plateau in the region beginning in 2008.
  • In 2002, more than a third of all US students going to Latin America went to Mexico. In 2011, that number had fallen to just one in ten. Years of ongoing violence and military action in the drug war are likely the cause.
  • Cuba experienced a 92% drop in US student visitors from 2004 to 2005. At the time, it was the third most visited Latin American country. Additional US sanctions passed in 2004 restricted Cuban American family visits, which may have contributed to the 2005 decrease.
Brent Hunter, Program Director at SOL Education Abroad

“Latin America will continue to grow as a study abroad destination for Americans. As Americans realize the growing importance of Spanish in the US, they will also realize the importance of learning Spanish from Latin American countries. Pragmatically, this is the Spanish that will be most useful to use in the workplace or on a daily basis. I think also that rising fuel costs will make students realize how much more affordable, overall, it is to fly to closer Latin American countries. Also, the dollar goes so much farther!

For Costa Rica, in particular, I think growth came from students and parents seeing it as a safer country than other Latin American locations. Costa Rica has definitely benefited from the fallout with safety in Mexico. Furthermore, Heredia has had more growth than San José (the capital) because its so much safer. I also think with people being more concerned about safety in the world they like the fact that Latin America is closer to home. The trends are, of course, different in each country and city.

With Buenos Aires being such a fabulous, European-influenced country it was only a matter of time until it began to get more popular. I think as more students return home with great experiences you'll see more students choosing Argentina over studying abroad in Europe, especially considering the continent-wide economic instability there. Plus, Students love the friendly porteños!”

Gerardo Avalos, Program Director at The School for Field Studies

Study abroad programs are getting more diversified in terms of options, costs, and overall emphasis. It is a moving target, which poses major challenges for home universities, service providers as well as students, who constantly need to monitor the available market in order to find programs that match their needs. In my opinion, home universities are switching more to study abroad providers, which have well-established programs, are strong on safety, and facilitate a rich learning experience by combining students from a variety of US universities.

These service providers usually have a strong connection with local communities and have the commitment to leave a positive impact on host countries, making the experience more real, relevant and meaningful for the students. In addition, running a study abroad program, with all the factors that it entails (transportation, food, lodging, logistics, faculty) is complex and expensive for home universities, which usually have to negotiate with their own faculty and convince them to live abroad for a while, usually at rental sites. There is clear trend leaning more towards strong dependence on service providers to run effective, state of the art study abroad programs.

The US economy suffered a major crisis that peaked about 3-4 years ago. This was felt in the academic world as budget reductions for research, cut backs on new faculty hiring, and reduction on self-ran study abroad programs (i.e., home universities switching to service providers). The economy is on the rise nowadays, but still is not in really good shape. Study abroad is among the first fields to show the aftershocks of any fluctuation in the economy. The trend that I have seen in the last few years is that students who used to go to more expensive programs in Europe and Asia actually switched to more affordable programs in Latin America, which are closer to the US (facilitating also a visit by parents, friends and family).

Jose B. Alvarez, Associate VP for Program Management and Development at CEA

"In recent years, there has been an exponential rise of the language proficiency that students are attaining before entering college. This trend allows for an increase in the number of students taking intermediate and advanced language courses in the freshman and sophomore years, oftentimes deciding early on to pursue double majors and minors in Spanish. The correlation between this rise and students going abroad in Spanish speaking countries is apparent. It is simply cheaper to study in Central and South America than it is in Spain. The increased interest in the region’s politics, economy, business practices and even environmental studies has also placed the area in a privileged position.

On the flip side, another factor contributing to increased interest in the area is that in many instances, students do not have to be fluent in the local language. Students can still participate in programs where the language of instruction is English. This, for example, is very common in science programs and in Brazil.

The open Doors Data clearly shows that a comparison of the two latest surveys conducted (2009/10 and 2010/11) there has been a decrease of 41.8% in the number of students participating in study abroad opportunities in Mexico, which is obviously due to safety concerns.

I would argue that for the numbers of students going abroad to keep increasing there must be the complicity of the faculty. Administrators, study abroad offices and staff, as well as advisors, have done a pretty good job highlighting the opportunities available for students. It is essential that more faculty understand the value and widely support the academic experiences of students by promoting it in their courses and facilitating the credit transfer. Study abroad must be an essential component of any college student curricula."

Source: Institute of International Education. (2012). "Profile of U.S. Study Abroad Students, 2000/01-2010/11." Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. Retrieved from http://www.iie.org/opendoors.

Report Methodology

Analysis and graphics for this report were created by Leaf and Square Consulting, a data-consulting firm helping companies get the most out of their data through advanced analytics and visualization. Learn more at leafandsquare.com.

Data for this report came from the 2012 Institute of International Education Open Doors Report on International Education Exchange and the National Center for Education Statistics.

We tried to stay as true to the IIE report methodology as possible, but in some instances it was necessary to modify our approach or aggregate data in a different way. A few notes:

  • "Years" in our report refer to the academic year ending.
  • In general, for countries that changed names or political boundaries during the time period covered in the report, data from years prior to the changes were updated to match the most recent assignment from IIE for consistency.
  • Exceptions: Egypt was reassigned from Africa to the Middle East. Turkey is assigned to the Middle East for the global report and shown regionally in both the Europe and Middle East reports.
  • Students traveling to multiple destinations, a significant group, were excluded from our report due to a lack of detailed destination information.
  • Students classified as "Unspecified" to a particular region in the IIE report were spread proportionally to the countries in that region.

Study Abroad in the Middle East: 2002-2011

After a slow start to the new millennium, the Middle East took off as a study abroad destination. Although still just 3% of global study abroad, student numbers grew nearly fivefold from 2002 to 2010. Middle East study abroad is highly variable due to its unstable geopolitical climate. This was illustrated in 2011 when a huge decline in Egypt drove a decrease in the entire region.

What’s been happening:
  • Israel made up 42% of study abroad to the region in 2011. Despite a 16% student drop in 2009, it more than doubled over the decade.
  • After averaging 32% year-over-year growth from 2002 to 2010, the Egyptian Revolution dealt a blow to Egypt study abroad in 2011, causing a 43% decline from the prior year.
  • The UAE and Jordan have shown sharp growth, but still have fewer than 1000 students.
  • As noted in the Europe Report, Turkey's growth of nearly 1500% over the ten-year period is one of the major global success stories.

* Note: For the purposes of our study, Turkey is shown in both the Middle East and Europe reports.

Dr. Linda C. Angell, Director, International Exchange Office at the American University of Sharjah

"The region has obviously changed a huge amount since 2011, so in many cases the numbers showing in your report are not going to reflect the current realities within the region. For example, I would expect to see the numbers decline in future reports for countries such as Syria, Turkey (should unrest happening lately continue), and Bahrain.

The UAE figures also do not reflect current realities. The political and economic stability of the UAE has been attracting a lot of incoming students who initially or previously would have planned to study abroad in other countries within the region, especially after the economic, political and social turmoil of the Arab Spring in many of the countries surrounding the UAE (much of which is still ongoing, and has happened during/after 2011). All of this latest/recent turmoil has dramatically increased the level of interest in the region, but at the same time has reduced the number of perceived 'safe' study abroad destinations. I believe that it is very important to watch these numbers for the UAE - I believe we will see huge increases in the number of students coming to study within the UAE in future reports!

Ghina Elkasti, Doha Resident Director at API

“I believe the majors in international relations and politics have contributed to the rising interest of students to choose the Middle East. Social media, and media in general, have made understanding ordinary life in the Middle East more accessible to students. Nowadays, the Middle East has been the a center of attention due to both its political issues and diversity.

This has made it both an attractive study abroad destination (for the most intrepid of students) and a seemingly dangerous one (causing enrollment numbers to increase less steadily than other Asian countries). Although some countries may be considered unsafe, GCC countries (aka the Gulf countries, such as UAE, Qatar, Oman..some countries like Morocco in North Africa) are much more stable and hold better opportunities for study abroad seekers.

And that’s before mentioning the lingual opportunities - more than ever, we need more speakers of Arabic. Where else can you study to immerse yourself in this language (while still being able to survive with English?!).

Having lived in Qatar and the Middle East for the past 2 decades, I have seen this country grow, develop, and go through major changes. It is increasingly responsive to globalization but at the same time is preserving its unique cultural identity and traditions. This unique dynamic makes it a good place for students to feel both extremes on the same land. Culture, history, norms and traditions, and how they differ from one country to another, make the region chock full of learning opportunities.”

Jonathan Kaplan, Director of Undergraduate Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

“At the opening of this period (2002-2012) study abroad in general, and in the Middle East in particular, was hindered by international concern with terrorism, sparked by 9/11 and terrorist attacks in other major cities. Conflicts in the region exacerbated such fears and led many students to seek calmer locations, either in the Middle East or in other parts of the world. Rising transportation costs as well as economic uncertainty in North America and Europe also affected decisions to study abroad, with a resulting decline in the number of long-term students and an increase in summer or short-term options.

At present, internal instability in many Arab countries in the wake of the Arab spring constitutes the major factor affecting study abroad choices in the area. Countries with higher stability have become the preferred choices of schools and students, and several programs have relocated to safer destinations. At the same time, in some countries such as Israel, more operators have entered the market offering an increased number and variety of study abroad options outside the traditional areas of Religious and Middle Eastern Studies. Programs in Business Administration, Psychology, Law, Music, Dance, Art, Film, Public Health, Environmental Studies and Engineering are now available at top academic institutions. While these programs are generally stable, the number of participants continues to fluctuate due to the dynamics of local or regional conflicts and their portrayal in the western media.

The Middle East remains a focus of interest and importance. The dramatic and unforeseen developments of recent years continue to attract world attention to the interplay of economic, religious and political forces in the region. The rich history and culture of the region, the beautiful landscape, and the beaches and centers of entertainment offer students an exciting and meaningful experience that they will never forget. Study abroad options abound, many at very prestigious and internationally recognized universities. With all that the region has to offer, the Middle East will continue to be a major attraction for students world wide.”

Source: Institute of International Education. (2012). "Profile of U.S. Study Abroad Students, 2000/01-2010/11." Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. Retrieved from http://www.iie.org/opendoors.

Report Methodology

Analysis and graphics for this report were created by Leaf and Square Consulting, a data-consulting firm helping companies get the most out of their data through advanced analytics and visualization. Learn more at leafandsquare.com.

Data for this report came from the 2012 Institute of International Education Open Doors Report on International Education Exchange and the National Center for Education Statistics.

We tried to stay as true to the IIE report methodology as possible, but in some instances it was necessary to modify our approach or aggregate data in a different way. A few notes:

  • "Years" in our report refer to the academic year ending.
  • In general, for countries that changed names or political boundaries during the time period covered in the report, data from years prior to the changes were updated to match the most recent assignment from IIE for consistency.
  • Exceptions: Egypt was reassigned from Africa to the Middle East. Turkey is assigned to the Middle East for the global report and shown regionally in both the Europe and Middle East reports.
  • Students traveling to multiple destinations, a significant group, were excluded from our report due to a lack of detailed destination information.
  • Students classified as "Unspecified" to a particular region in the IIE report were spread proportionally to the countries in that region.