Report: "The Economical Effects of Internationalisation in Higher Education

Study executed by KU Leuven on behalf of the Flemish Higher Education Council (VLUHR) and the Flemish Advisory Council for Innovation and Enterprise (VARIO).


The internationalisation of higher education is receiving increasing attention both from an academic perspective and as from a policy perspective. The number of higher education students who move to another country in order to study there is growing year by year. For Flanders, too, both the number as the share of international students in higher education is increasing.

This study examines the economic consequences of this trend towards internationalisation, with a focus on higher education students enrolling in full-time study programmes. The study quantifies the costs and benefits for Flanders. It also calculates the costs and benefits for government funding, with a distinction between the costs and benefits during the study period and after the study period.

The results indicate a net positive effect of internationalisation, with direct benefits exceeding costs by 2.6 to 3.3 times. The results indicate a contribution of international students to the Flemish economy with a factor between € 3,072 million and € 4,408 million, which means a net contribution of € 465 - € 613 per inhabitant in Flanders.

The findings confirm the relevance of the impact of international students on the economy, although there are a number of considerations. First of all, most of the impact is determined by the long-term impact of international students on the economy. Secondly, it is found that during the studies the net costs are higher than the benefits, but afterwards the benefits take precedence. Thirdly, as long as international students live and work in Flanders, the annual benefits remain positive. The results differ according to nationality and level of education of international students.