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77% growth in

English-taught programmes

outside the ‘big four’


Nearly one in five English-taught programmes are now available outside of the ‘big four’ English-speaking study destinations of the United Kingdom, United States, Australia and Canada, according to a major survey looking at the growth in degree courses taught in English by universities in non-English speaking countries.

The global overview, The Changing Landscape of English-Taught Programmes, published by the British Council and comparison study choice platform Studyportals on 7 December 2021, identified 27,874 full masters and bachelor degree programmes taught in English outside the big four English-speaking study destination nations.

Until recently the main competition for English-taught programmes (ETPs) came from European higher education institutions in countries such as the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark as well as from smaller English-speaking countries like Ireland and New Zealand.

But trends since January 2017 reveal it is the Chinese and Sub-Saharan African regions that have seen the fastest percentage growth rate of ETPs, doubling their provision in the last five years, Edwin van Rest, founder and chief executive officer of Studyportals, told University World News.

He said: “The landscape is certainly changing fast, with some of the destinations that have traditionally been source countries for international student recruitment to English-taught programmes becoming destination countries as well.

“The number of destination countries is widening and the flow of students across the world is now spread more evenly across different countries, with more destinations for students to choose from.”

Close attention by the British Council

The British Council is paying close attention to the changing trends as it is co-owner of IELTS, the world’s most popular English language proficiency test for higher education and global migration.

Sara Pierson, director of examinations at the British Council, said their work supports institutions around the world by developing and testing people’s English language ability.

“By 2025, we anticipate we’ll be supporting 10% of the world’s English learners. This latest report demonstrates the ongoing importance of English as a medium of instruction – and prompts us all to consider the changes happening to the international education landscape and the impact they may have,” she said.

Andrew Mackenzie, head of IELTS at the British Council, told University World News: “The report’s findings show that language testing providers need to be agile in catering to shifting trends in higher education and work with an increasingly diverse range of partners worldwide.

“English learning, and testing, remain at the forefront of the international education landscape and growth in English-taught programmes in Asia, and in East Asia especially, will likely change the global landscape in years to come.”

China’s strong international education ambitions

The joint British Council and Studyportals report says China has strong international education ambitions, developing its higher education system to improve in global rankings, provide scholarships for prospective students, create global partnerships and recruit internationally.

Pre-pandemic, it aimed to recruit 500,000 international students by 2020 and reached 492,000 in 2019. A key part of the strategy is increasing English-taught provision and it now accounts for 12% of ETPs outside the big four English-speaking countries.

But it is not just China eyeing the potential of a growing market as students worldwide reconsider their options in a post-COVID pandemic world, said Dr Carmen Neghina, from the Studyportals analytics and consulting team, who produced the report with Megan Agnew, IELTS global partnerships manager at the British Council.

Explosion in demand

“Within Asia-Pacific, there has been a recent explosion of demand throughout the region to raise English-language competences and promote internationalisation and international student recruitment targets.

“India has also announced the intention to host 200,000 visiting students by 2023. These signals are pointing to a shift in Asia-Pacific countries transitioning from ‘sending’ markets to ‘receiving’ markets for international students,” Neghina told University World News.

Neghina said the data suggests that most of the growth of ETPs worldwide will be in Asia in the next few years, in particular in the Chinese region and East Asia, which she believes will overtake Europe in overall size by the end of the 2020s.

The report also highlights that higher education institutions in the Middle East are showing strong interest in offering English-taught programmes, some in collaboration with UK universities or in the form of transnational education.

“One hypothesis emerging after the pandemic is that students might prefer destinations closer to home, and since most international students currently originate from Asia it is expected that Asian destinations will benefit from the pandemic in terms of global recruitment,” said Neghina.

The report from her and Agnew mapped 157,278 bachelor and masters degree programmes worldwide taught in English using the Studyportals database. While it found that 81.7% were offered by the big four Anglophone destinations, it showed that almost one in five ETPs are offered outside the major players.

“In May 2021, Studyportals identified 27,874 programmes outside the ‘big four’. This represents a growth of 77% compared to just January 2017,” Neghina told University World News.

Among the fastest growing disciplines, ETPs are increasingly being offered in medicine and health, which includes fields such as health sciences, human medicine and public health.

These experienced a 126% growth while programmes in education and training grew by 114% and those in applied sciences and professions saw a growth of 103%.

Of the 27,874 ETP programmes outside the big four, the vast majority are currently offered within the European Higher Education Area, which accounts for 63% of provision, followed by the Chinese region at 12.2%, Sub-Saharan Africa at 8.1% and East Asia at 6.7%.

The Middle East and North Africa, South Asia and Americas regions offer a relatively lower number of ETPs, at 4.7%, 3.6% and 1.8% respectively, according to the report.

“In Sub-Saharan Africa, the number of higher education institutions teaching in English remains limited, but large South African universities have extensive programme portfolios that cater both to the needs of domestic students and students from mainly other African countries,” said Neghina.

“So despite its relatively small base, Sub-Saharan Africa along with the Chinese region offer plenty of room for growth by the end of this decade. Both more than doubled their programme offering in the last five years and both have growing demographic demands,” she said.

Nic Mitchell is a UK-based freelance journalist and PR consultant specialising in European and international higher education. He blogs at