The FINANCIAL -- The number of foreign students has been steadily increasing around the world. More and more students chose to earn a degree outside of their home countries. Education internalization plays a key role in the development of today’s educational systems, and the impact of international students goes beyond their short-term financial effect on the economy; it plays a vital role for social cohesion and development of international networks, etc.
The literature distinguishes between two types of economic impacts related to international students: short-term benefits realized during the student’s enrollment at the university, such as tuition fees, total subsistence spending, and the expenditures of friends and relatives who come to visit, and medium to long-term impacts post-graduation. Post-graduation effects are significant in the case of the most developed countries, where many students stay after graduation and contribute to the labor market, start businesses, expand international networks, facilitate trade and investment flows between their home and host countries, pay taxes, etc. In less developed and developing countries, most benefits are materialized before students’ graduation, as the vast majority choose not to stay in the host country.
Immigration of high skilled students plays a substantial role in wealth and growth for a host country. However, according to the same literature, not every country can attract a significant number of skilled foreign students. A host country should be attractive for foreign students in terms of openness to innovation, openness to foreigners, strong links between research and industry, a flexible immigration system and low taxes. Yet, mere attractiveness is not enough to keep highly skilled foreign students in a host country. It must be supported by a good quality education system, which will guarantee better labor market outcomes for students.
To keep up with international trends, Georgian universities have been increasing their efforts to attract foreign nationals, and internationalization of education has become an important part of the Migration Strategy of Georgia, designed by the State Commission on Migration Issues. The government has announced education export as one of its priorities. The admission procedures for foreign students in Georgian universities has been simplified; moreover, foreign students heading to the Georgian universities are exempted from the Uniform National Entrance or General Graduate Examinations.
According to the Ministry of Education and Science (MoES) of Georgia, the number of international students has more than doubled in the last three years, and surpassed the nine thousand mark in 2017. Citizens of Azerbaijan, India, Iraq, Nigeria, Turkey, and Russia are the most interested in getting education in Georgia. Ninety percent of international students come from these six countries. The number of Azerbaijani, Iraqi, Indian and Nigerian students has increased dramatically during the last couple years; at the same time, the number of Turkish and Russian students has stayed stable.
The ISET Policy Institute, at the request of the State Commission on Migration Issues and within the framework of the EU-funded “Enhancing Migration Management in Georgia” project implemented by the International Centre for Migration Policy Development, conducted a study with the goal of assessing the impact of foreign students on the Georgian economy and the higher education system. For this purpose, an online survey for international students was designed and conducted, along with the interviews of university managers. Secondary data analysis was carried out based on MoES official statistics. During the research project, a total of 277 foreign students were surveyed, all of whom were at that time studying at Georgian universities; furthermore, in-depth interviews were conducted with 12 representatives from the administrations of ten universities. The students who participated in the online survey came from eight universities, which currently host 60% of all foreign students in Georgia. Moreover, the administrators who took part in the in-depth interviews represent universities which currently host 64% of all foreign students.
The study explores the drivers behind the significant growth of international students in Georgia, estimates current financial benefits, and evaluates potential for further development. This report is the first of its kind, as there has not yet been an extensive quantitative study carried out analyzing the economic and financial impact of international students for Georgia.
The online survey demonstrated that Georgia’s reputation as a safe country, and the relatively low cost of tuition, play the most important roles in attracting international students (Table 2). Furthermore, the availability of courses taught in English and qualified faculty are the key considerations when choosing an academic institution. When asked if they would recommend attending their academic institution to their friends and/or relatives, 78 percent of the students replied positively. Students who indicated that they would not give their university a positive recommendation explained their evaluation by citing low quality of teaching and their school’s inability to provide opportunities to gain practical experience, as well as dissatisfaction with university administration and staff.
The exact question asked in the survey: “please indicate how important were the following factors for your decision to study in Georgia?” 1 – “not important at all” to 5 – “extremely important”
Medical education is the most popular and, at the same time, the most expensive education that foreign students acquire in Georgia. More than half of the students study medicine, healthcare, pharmacy or dentistry. Tbilisi State Medical University is the clear leader among Georgian universities, hosting 18 percent of all international students.
The tuition fees for foreign students are several times higher than for Georgian citizens. Tuition at state universities is capped at 2,250 GEL for Georgian students. In contrast, based on the survey results, the average tuition fee for foreign students at Tbilisi State Medical University, for example, amounts to 6,222 US dollars (16,800 GEL).
Georgian universities hosting international students unequivocally emphasize the crucial role of foreign students in the development of their institutions, which allows them to invest in new infrastructure, modern technologies, and offer a wider variety of educational programs. Furthermore, the gross economic impact of international students on the Georgian economy is estimated to be close to 200 million Georgian lari, which is approximately 0.6 percent of Georgia’s GDP, and 6 percent of Georgia’s Service Exports. The biggest item on the expenditure list is tuition fees, amounting to 28.1 million US dollars (76 million GEL), followed by spending on housing costs in the amount of 16.7 million US dollars (45 million GEL). As only a very few foreign students plan to stay in Georgia after graduation, their contribution to the local job market is insignificant.
An increasing number of international students, coupled with increasing tuition fees collected by Georgian universities, signals a growing demand for Georgian higher education, with even more opportunities to explore. To capitalize on competitive advantages that Georgia currently enjoys, the government should fully support higher education institutions, help increase quality of services they provide, and further simplify student immigration-related services. As emphasized in a recent interview by the current Minister of Education and Science of Georgia, Aleksandre Jejelava, financial resources derived from international students will play a critical role in improving education services provided by local universities for local students.