Project Atlas® was born with funding from the Ford Foundation when researchers from the British Council, IDP Education Australia, and IIE came together to address the need for standardized definitions of terms related to international student mobility. The goal was to better understand and track the unprecedented growth of international student flows worldwide.

Led by IIEProject Atlas® is a collaborative global research initiative that focuses on maximizing the understanding, measurement, and use of international student mobility data. This unique and growing network of leading academic mobility research and government entities disseminates annual standardized and comparable global academic mobility data, and collaborates on research. The initiative conducts assessments and workshops worldwide to accommodate the needs of countries seeking to strengthen their data collection systems.

Project Atlas® is currently supported by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the United States Department of State, IIE, and our country partnersWith over 30 international partners to-date, the Project Atlas® network brings together unmatched academic mobility leadership and expertise to help you and your organization better understand the national, regional, and international dynamics of global student mobility.


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Q: Why Project Atlas?

A: At the turn of the millennium, several studies documented the rise in international student mobility, and suggested that the numbers would inevitably increase. OECD estimates that in 2009 there were over 3.7 million higher education students studying outside of their home country. Data from the Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, an annual report issued by the Institute of International Education (IIE), show that the number of U.S. students studying abroad has more than quadrupled since the mid-1980s. Other countries, and especially those within the European Union and Asia, have experienced similar and even greater expansion of their internationally mobile student populations.

The key in understanding these trends lies in asking some simple questions: Which are the largest sending and host countries? Where do the students come from and where do they go? As simple as these questions were, they could not be adequately answered. While UNESCO collected and disseminated international student data annually, trans-national comparisons were problematic because different countries used different data definitions and time frames, and most of the data were obtained from state-run institutions only. This was an example of what Todd M. Davis, Ph.D., former director of Project Atlas, called a “lack of global vision” about student mobility: that the international student community lacked “a global source of baseline data that [enabled] us to see this emerging global higher education space as more than just the sum of its national host country parts.”

In 2001, IIE launched Project Atlas with support from the Ford Foundation to lay the groundwork for a system for collecting, organizing, and disseminating data on internationally mobile students worldwide. In 2003, IIE published the Atlas of Student Mobility. The Atlas of Student Mobility was a first attempt at pulling together various sources of international student data from the perspective of 21 main host countries (destinations) and 75 leading places of origin using data from publicly available data sets for a single year (2000). This data was supplemented by contextual information, such as national population, level of development, integration into the global economy, urbanization, technology and measures of civil and press freedom. In April 2004, IIE convened a meeting of the major host countries to update the Project Atlas database, and to build a shared online resource to provide more timely and comprehensive global mobility data. This website is a result of that collaboration. The website now includes data shared by Project Atlas partner organizations representing top sending and host countries around the world.

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Q: Who is responsible for Project Atlas?

A: Project Atlas is a partnership of public and private national level higher education data collection agencies, informed by an international advisory group and administered by the Institute of International Education. It was launched in 2001 with generous support from the Ford Foundation and is currently supported by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State and its constituent partners.

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Q: Who are the current Project Atlas partners?

A: Current data-contributing member organizations include the following:

If you would like to see your country represented, please send us an e-mail. For more information on any of the partner countries, please visit their individual websites, linked above.

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Q: Where can I find more information or other types of data?

A: Project Atlas is currently working on compiling trend data for partner countries. Additional trend data may be found on the UIS website and Education GPS - OECD, as well as many individual country's data websites (such as the Open Doors website for the United States). Please see the "Resources" section on each Country Profile for more resources on international student mobility data for that country. For suggestions or comments on other types of data you would like to see, please e-mail us.

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Q: What publications are available from Project Atlas?

A: The Project Atlas website is the most frequently updated source of Project Atlas data and statistics. Published in 2011, the Project Atlas book, Student Mobility and the Internationalization of Higher Education: National Policies and Strategies from Six World Regions is available for purchase at IIE Books.

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Q: Why is the number of international students published by the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) different from the number published by Project Atlas?

A: The difference in numbers published by UIS and Project Atlas is due to the differences in definitions and coverage for international student data.

Data reported by the UIS on internationally mobile students cover only students who pursue higher education degrees outside their country of origin (so called “degree mobility”) and exclude students who are under short-term for-credit study and exchange programs that last less than a full academic year (so called “credit mobility”). Project Atlas data cover both degree mobility and credit mobility in tertiary education.

The following example illustrates how different definitions and coverage can impact numbers published by the UIS and by Project Atlas. In 2009, China reported to the UIS that its universities enrolled 61,211 degree-seeking international students. The China Project Atlas partner reported that there were 238,184 international students in China in 2009. These 238,184 students include not only degree-seeking students, but also according to the Project Atlas definition, students who undertake all or part of their higher education experience in a country other than their home country or students who travel across a national boundary to a country other than their home country to undertake all or part of their higher education experience.

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Q: The data for my country are incorrect and outdated, or, the data listed on the Project Atlas website for my country are from UNESCO, but I have more current data.

A: Our goal is to provide the most current and complete data available. If you are aware of organizations that collect country-level data on student mobility, please contact us to provide the contact information of the organization or a link to the official website.

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Q: My organization collects student mobility data and is interested in joining Project Atlas. Are you accepting new partners?

A: We invite new partners to join Project Atlas to share and disseminate comprehensive, accurate and timely data on international student mobility. If your organization is interested in joining Project Atlas, please contact us.

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Q: Where can I go for answers to questions that I don’t see here?

A: Please contact us, and we will respond as soon as possible.

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