A sharp decline in USA and a surge in Canadian business schools applications by international students

A new study from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) highlights the relative attractiveness of the business schools in leading study destinations. The framing of the study, Early Warning Signals: Winners and Losers in the Global Race for Talent, is very compelling. It looks at trends in international application volumes and related policy, but also takes a broader view in arguing that foreign enrollment trends in business schools are also an important indicator of how talent is moving around the world.

The report examines trends around business school admissions in a number of countries but highlights the situation in the US in particular. There it finds that US business programmes have experienced a nearly 14% decline in international admissions applications this year. This is sharper decline than any other country in the world, and it stands in sharp contrast to the “largely rising or stable” applications volumes reported in many other destination countries. The report notes that increases in applications to business schools in Canada and Europe were largely driven by increases in international demand.

Canada has seen a surge in application volumes over the last three years, with seven in ten business schools reporting stable or increasing international application volumes again this year. The situation is similar in the UK where, even with some softening this year, roughly 70% of business schools have reported growing or stable application volumes over the last three years. In contrast in the US, roughly 20% of schools report stable numbers of international applications over 2017, 2018, and 2019, with only 30% reporting any increase.

study reports declining international interest in us business schools
Year-over-year changes in international application volumes for business schools in Canada, Europe, and the US. Source: GMAC

The policy link

GMAC draws a very direct line between current immigration policy and the declining demand for US business schools. “Data from prospective applicants coupled with insights from business school deans point to a few key factors in the US decline – some newly emerging and some which have been developing over time, says the report. “Paramount are the changes to the H-1B visa cap, which have resulted in far fewer job opportunities for international students upon graduation and greater uncertainty about a future in the United States.” As we noted recently, the H-1B visa programme, through which foreign graduates may stay and work in the US for up to six years, has been subject to reforms under the current US administration. Recent data from US immigration reveals as well that H-1B applications are now coming under greater scrutiny by US officials.

Any such restrictions on the process or prospects for post-study work visas can be expected to have a chilling effect on foreign student interest and that appears to be exactly what GMAC has found in its analysis. The report says that, “For Indian students in particular, the ability to work and potentially settle for the long term in the United States is a primary reason for applying to US business schools. Two thirds agree that not being able to obtain a job in the United States post-graduation would prevent them from pursuing business school there (66%). The same was true for 52% of candidates from China.”

Source: ICEF Monitor

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