Global Competition for Brains and Talent

Manolo Abella
May 04, 2015

Recent years have seen the emergence of an international market for higher education. It is likely that the number of international students worldwide may have reached 5.2 million in 2014, with these students responsible for expenditures for tuition, accommodation, and other living expenses of no less than $50 billion. Since 1970, the number of international students is estimated to have doubled every fifteen years, on average, and the pace may be accelerating because of the expanding pool of tertiary education graduates in emerging economies where more education suppliers are entering the market. Experts predict that there will be at least 8 million international students by market. 2025, a larger group than the total population of Switzerland, Norway, or Ireland. This article traces the growth of student migration to the Cold War period when it was driven largely by the competition between the Soviet bloc and the West for influence in the developing world, how it has since been transformed (and now is being driven mainly by competition for dominance in technological innovation and trade), and concludes with questions on what it means for the less-developed countries of origin.