Study Abroad in Europe: 2002-2011

Megan Lee

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

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

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

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]