AS the global economy becomes increasingly integrated, more students are seeking to attain higher qualifications to get a leg up in a competitive market place. Robust economic growth in Asia's emerging economies is also driving more students in the region to pursue postgraduate studies as a means to better employment opportunities.
Meanwhile, governments seeking to raise the competency of their workforces are also fuelling the trend for higher education. In Singapore, for instance, a national initiative to upgrade the skills of all workers is seen as a key to its next phase of economic development. At the same time, universities are competing for talented postgraduate students as research output becomes a more important factor in determining funding and positioning in international university rankings.
"The talent pool is increasingly seen as an international one in which ranked universities across the world are competing for the best students," said a report by the British Council titled Postgraduate Student Mobility Trends To 2024.
In the majority of the eight leading countries that were studied for a recent Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) report, around a third of all higher education awards are postgraduate, ranging from a low of 24.7 per cent in Spain to a high of 37.1 per cent in Scotland, the report noted.
The growth of postgraduate students has also been fuelled by more people having access to higher education. This trend initially led to the growth in undergraduate degrees, but has since spread to students seeking additional qualifications beyond the first degree.
"A growing middle class, the aspiration of students eager for prosperity, and demand for more advanced skills and knowledge in the workplace have all combined to make the mobility of postgraduate students a phenomenon worth examining," said the British Council report.
Continued strength in Asian economies including China, Vietnam, India, Indonesia and Pakistan is expected to drive tertiary enrolments over the next decade.
Within the region, India and Indonesia are expected to have among the largest growths in tertiary enrolments to 2024, according to data from the British Council.
India is also expected to be one of the fastest growing sources of international postgraduate students over the next decade.
A survey by market intelligence firm MM Advisory Services showed that the US is the top destination for Indian students, while engineering and computer science are the most popular subjects.
"In general, studying abroad is becoming an attractive option because of the rising numbers of affluent middle class in India," said Maria Mathai, director of MM Advisory Services. "There has always been a dearth of high quality education institutions in the country to cater to the large population so existing domestic institutions have not been able to meet the demand for higher education."
Indeed, the number of international students in the US increased by 10 per cent in the 2014-15 academic year, marking the highest rate of growth in 35 years, according to the latest Open Doors report from the New York-based Institute of International Education (IIE).
China and India together accounted for 67 per cent of the increase in overseas students during the year, and they now make up nearly 45 per cent of total international student numbers in US higher education.
India's growth has been primarily at the postgraduate level, revealed Rajika Bhandari, IIE's deputy vice-president for research and evaluation.
"We know that Indian students have always been very attracted to the availability of excellent research facilities on US campuses and also within the US industry," she said.
"Indian students are also drawn to the US because of the very large Indian diaspora there. Indian Americans are one of the fastest-growing minority groups in the US."