When Claire Booyjzsen finished her master’s degree at the University of Witwatersrand in her native South Africa, the world was her oyster. Intent on pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry, she consulted global university rankings, corresponded with professors and students to narrow down her list, and ultimately applied to 11 universities. After the acceptances came in, she traveled to Coventry, England, to become a doctoral student at the University of Warwick, where 1 in 5 students comes from overseas. “I’ve met people from all over the world,” says Booyjzsen.
Booyjzsen is among the nearly 3 million students who now study outside their home countries, an increase of 57 percent in the past decade alone. The trend is growing among faculty, too: Three quarters of young economists in top U.S. universities earned their undergraduate degrees in another nation. As globalization comes to higher education, students and professors increasingly pick and choose universities like shoppers in a worldwide academic marketplace.
So far, the United States has been the biggest winner in this talent race. Two thirds of all international graduate students study in America’s world-renowned universities. In fields such as engineering and computer science, more than 60 percent of Ph.D. students on U.S. campuses come from other countries. Indeed, a recent survey found that China’s Tsinghua and Peking universities have surpassed the University of California–Berkeley as the biggest source of students who go on to earn American Ph.D.’s.