Mapping Gen Z: Where student populations are growing, and what that means for international education

Mapping Gen Z: Where student populations are growing, and what that means for international education

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Over the last year, we at INTO have given a great deal of thought to the global population of international students belonging to Generation Z — those born between the late 1990s and early 2010s, who are currently 25 years of age or younger.  The reason for our extensive Gen Z research is simple: this cohort constitutes the largest share of potential international students for higher education institutions today, and meeting them where they are, on their terms, is the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful recruitment strategy.

That said, it can be hard to comprehend the sheer scale of the opportunity presented by Gen Z international students globally.  To mark International Education Week, let's step back and take stock of the latest growth trends for the Gen Z population worldwide — and what they mean for international education.

Of the more than 1.8 billion Gen Z individuals worldwide, over 515 million reside in South Asia.  India alone has a Gen Z population exceeding 374 million, nearly three times the number of across all of Europe.  Put differently, there are more Gen Zers in India than there are people in the United States.

China, home to the second largest Gen Z population of on earth, trails India by more than 128 million, with a total of 246 million Gen Zers.  Indonesia, Nigeria and Pakistan round out the top five with roughly 69, 68 and 67 million Gen Z individuals, respectively.

Unsurprisingly, many of these countries are also the largest source markets for students entering higher education systems in the US and the UK, among others.  As an example, data on Indian student visas in the US indicate an incoming cohort that by August was 56,000 larger in number than during the same period in 2019. 

In the UK, over 34,000 study visas have been issued to Nigerian students — six times higher than the total just three years ago.  Meanwhile, the volume of students coming to the UK from Bangladesh, the No. 7 market for Gen Z students, is nearly nine times higher over the same timeframe.

At the same time, while Indonesia is the ninth largest source market for international students bound for Australia, it is currently just the 27th largest source country for the US and 21st for the UK, despite its huge Gen Z population of 69 million This is also true for other countries with large populations of young people, like Ethiopia and the Republic of Congo. 

While studying abroad is financially out of reach to many in these countries, improvements in technology and new models of transnational education (TNE) will allow universities and other providers to engage with an increasingly global, diverse audience. 

Furthermore, our recent survey of Gen Z students in Vietnam highlighted the continued importance of face-to-face engagement in study abroad decision-making.  INTO’s University Access Centres in cities such as Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and Jakarta, Indonesia, will provide new opportunities to engage directly with prospective students in established and emerging markets.

To help you quickly explore current Gen Z population trends globally, we have developed the below the interactive dashboard.  You may click to explore in more detail the age and demographic profile for each part of the world listed.

Obviously, Gen Z population size is not the sole determinant of global student flows.  But, with insight into other key variables like economic development, tertiary enrollment rates, domestic higher education policy and capacity, it’s a useful input when thinking through future growth potential.

Looking ahead, universities will also need to consider how best to engage with and promote opportunities to Generation Alpha — the first cohort of people to be born entirely in the 21st century — by the end of this decade.  Understanding where and how populations of 15- to 24-year-olds will grow and shrink by 2030, including a mix of Gen Z and Alpha, will be integral to long-term international student recruitment success.

During International Education Week, we present this context as a reminder of the massive opportunity posed to the international education community by Gen Z students around the world.  The single most impactful thing universities can do to recruit these students in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic is to understand what compels them to study abroad, and to serve them with intentionality.

At INTO, we constantly monitor emerging student mobility and international education trends, converting information into actionable insights for our partner universities.

For media enquiries, please contact:

Davinder Kumar
VP, Corporate & Public Relations 


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