If you're interested in global flows of international students in any direction, it's well worth a look at UNESCO's new interactive map on the global flow of tertiary students. If you select UK in the drop down box, and click on "where do students come from", the map of the world turns even pinker than in the heyday of the British Empire. If ever there was a graphic indication of the soft-power potential of international student mobility, this is it.
While we nervously wait to see whether more or fewer international students come to the UK in the current climate it's worth noting that emerging education hub Singapore is reporting a marked drop in its international student numbers, and Australia continues to report a decline in numbers in all sectors in its latest figures, despite strenuous efforts to reverse some of the immigration and safety factors which have made it less attractive in recent years (it can do little about the strength of its currency).
Now go back to the UNESCO map and look at the outward flows for the UK. With the caveat that the data is incomplete (no data for instance on the country of origin of any students in China), it's worth comparing the small total outward mobility from the UK with the aspirations expressed in a recent British Council study in which one in three respondents thought they would have benefited from living or studying abroad. While raising domestic student fees may changes the incentives (HSBC reckons studying in the UK is now the fourth most expensive option for English students) that policy alone may not be a game changer. [See Rachel Brooks' blog on the evidence to date.]
Compare once again with Australia. Following a white paper on Australia in the Asian Century, the Australian government is committing A$37 million (£24 million) to a grants scheme for study abroad in Asia
which aims to help over 10,000 Australians gain experience of work or study in Asia. Now that might really make its mark on the map.