An (almost) complete guide to international student policy in 2023

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An (almost) complete guide to international student policy in 2023


If there’s one thing politicians love to talk about, it’s how valuable international students are to their country – how much they contribute to the economy, how important they are for the future workforce and the diversity they bring to universities and colleges.

Photo: Pexels.

2023 was the year of policymakers floating the idea of capping international student numbers

They normally say this before unleashing a raft of devastating policies that leave students understandably confused about why they just spent thousands of yen/rupees/naira on an education abroad. 

So, in case anything is unclear, here’s our country-by-country breakdown of where, after a turbulent year, everyone stands on international students. Be warned, if you’re looking for logic behind the policies – there isn’t any. Oh, and, they’ll probably all change in January anyway.  

2023 was the year of policymakers in top student destinations floating the idea of capping international student numbers, seemingly unaware of the barrage of criticism and mass hysteria even a whisper of limitations would unleash. 

Responding to the housing crisis in Canada, immigration-turned-housing minister Sean Fraser said – in what I still believe to be a misguided, but innocent, slip of the tongue – limiting student numbers could be “one of the options”

Despite caveating this with a suggestion to avoid such extreme measures by working more closely with providers, basically every institution, agent and international student in the country rushed to shut down the idea. A month later, new immigration minister Marc Miller confirmed there would be no cap, describing the proposal as “doing surgery with a hammer” – a comment I’m sure went down well with his predecessor. 

The same happened in Australia when leaked reports suggested the government was seriously considering limiting student numbers. In the end, politicians didn’t go that far in their new migration strategy, released in December, but they also refused to rule it out. Why not end the year on a cliffhanger, after all? 

Meanwhile, the UK’s former home secretary Suella Braverman circumvented the need for a cap by curtailing the ability of students to bring dependants – effectively stopping almost anyone who wants to raise their children or live with their partner from studying at a British university. 

Generally less focused on profits thanks to well-funded higher education systems the UK and Canada can only dream of, Scandinavian countries have historically viewed international students as adding to diversity and have been happy to welcome them for very little money. 

But as governments in the region swing to the right, the idea of giving everyone a free (or eye-wateringly cheap) ride has come under greater scrutiny and in 2023 both Norway and Finland decided to increase tuition fees for non-EU students. 

Meanwhile, Denmark, which was a few years ahead of the curve having limited English language programs in 2021 to effectively curb international student numbers, discovered – in a shock to absolutely no one – that doing so was costing the country billions and started posing the idea of, maybe, uh, reopening some more places…? 

“Germany has become something of an international student utopia”

Over in the Netherlands, politicians continued to debate limiting international student places, only for the government to collapse leaving everyone with no idea what was going on. With a new prime minister now in place (the Dutch answer to Donald Trump), things don’t look good

In contrast, neighbouring Germany has become something of an international student utopia, welcoming record numbers thanks to low tuition fees, attractive post-study work options and a government that actually seems to know what it wants

The US has been relatively policy-quiet, to both the relief and disdain of education leaders. It might be the only country where those who work with international students want more intervention from the government, namely a national strategy

Finally, poor New Zealand, battered by prolonged border closures, struggled to recover student numbers, but with a new government in place that has promised to expand work rights, speed up visa processing and let graduates stay in the country, it’s our “one to watch” for 2024 (you’re welcome to quote me on that in your next marketing campaign, Education NZ).

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