Below are definitions of student mobility terms used by Project Atlas and country partner organizations (listed alphabetically after the Project Atlas definition).

Project Atlas®

International (or internationally mobile) students: Students who undertake all or part of their higher education experience in a country other than their home country or who travel across a national boundary to a country other than their home country to undertake all or part of their higher education experience.

Number of Students Abroad: In general, the number of students from a particular country who leave the country to study abroad either for short- or long-term durations of study at the higher education level; defined by each data source (see specific data sources for details).

Number of Tertiary Institutions: This data reflects the number of higher education institutions in a given country; provided by data sources, where available.

Top Host Destinations The list of top host countries is based on the percent of global market share and based on data provided by data-contributing partners. The list is also cross-referenced against UNESCO and OECD data.

Academic Levels

  • Undergraduate Degree/Qualification students: those studying abroad toward a degree or qualification awarded by an accredited higher education institution (e.g. B.A., B.S.)
  • Undergraduate Study Abroad/Non-award study students: those enrolled in undergraduate courses abroad but not pursuing a degree or qualification from an institution; students participating in short-term study abroad programs; exchange students
  • (Post-)Graduate Degree/Qualification students: those studying toward a degree or qualification awarded by an institution in your country (e.g. M.A., M.S., Ph.D.)
  • (Post-)Graduate Degree/Qualification coursework students: those enrolled in graduate courses abroad but not pursuing a degree or qualification from an institution; students participating in short-term study abroad programs; exchange students

Fields of Study

  • Business and Management: Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services; Personal and Culinary Services; Tourism and related courses
  • Engineering: Engineering; Engineering Technologies/Technicians; Transportation and Materials Moving; Construction Trades; Mechanic and Repair Technologies/Technicians; Precision Production
  • Physical and Life Sciences: Biological and Biomedical Sciences; Physical Sciences; Science Technologies/ Technicians
  • Social Sciences: Social Sciences; Psychology; Public Administration and Social Service Professions; Parks, Recreation, Leisure, and Fitness Studies; Area, Ethnic, Cultural, and Gender Studies; History; Security and Protective Services
  • Mathematics and Computer Sciences: Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services; Mathematics and Statistics
  • Fine and Applied Arts: Visual and Performing Arts; Music; Architecture and Related Services
  • Health Professions: Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing, Dietetics and Nutrition, Mental Health, Pharmacy, Veterinary Medicine, Alternative Medicine, Chiropractic, Podiatry, Medical Assistants and Laboratory Technicians, Public Health
  • Education: Teacher Education, Educational Administration, Student Counseling
  • Humanities: Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics; English Language and Literature/Letters; Theology and Religious Vocations; Philosophy and Religious Studies
  • Agriculture: Agriculture, Agricultural Operations, and Related Sciences; Natural Resources and Conservation
  • Other/Unspecified: Liberal Arts and Sciences and General Studies; Communication, Journalism, and Related Programs; Legal Professions and Studies; Multi/Interdisciplinary Studies; Family and Consumer Sciences/Human Sciences/ Communications Technologies/Technicians and Support Services; Library Sciences; Residency Programs


Partner: Australian Government Department of Education and Training

Inbound Student: A student on a student visa studying in Australia with an institution registered to deliver courses to such students. Students from New Zealand are not included in the student enrollment counts as they do not require a student visa.

Foreign Student: Australia does not differentiate between international and foreign students.

Outbound Student: Any student (including international students) enrolled in a campus in Australia who leaves the country for the purposes of study for an unspecified period. Also included is any Australian permanent resident who is enrolled in a full-degree in another country. Australia depends on UNESCO for a count of these students. Therefore, by UNESCO definitions, these students are studying abroad for two years or more.

Higher Education Institution (HEI): An entity established or recognized by the federal or a state/territory government to issue qualifications in the higher education sector. It may be a university, self-accrediting institution or non-self-accrediting institution. These institutions must be in the National Register of Higher Education Providers.

Public HEI: HEIs that have the majority of their funding provided by the government (state and/or federal) for domestic student places.

Private HEI: HEIs that have the majority of their funding sourced from the non-government sector for domestic student places. 


Partner: CBIE/BCEI

Inbound/International Student: A temporary resident who has been approved by an immigration officer to study in Canada. The study permit identifies the level of study and the length of time the individual may study in Canada. International students do not need a study permit for courses of six months or less if they will finish the course within the period of stay authorized upon entry, which is usually six months. Every foreign student must have a student authorization, but may also have been issued other types of permits or authorizations.

Foreign Student: Canada does not differentiate between international and foreign students.

Outbound Student: Canadian students pursuing a full-degree abroad as reported by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Canada does not have national data for students who participate in short term education abroad experiences as part of their Canadian degree.

Higher Education Institution (HEI): A HEI or postsecondary education institution includes formal educational activities for which high school completion is the normal entrance requirement. Constituting authority or ownership is the primary distinction between Public HEIs and Private HEIs. When ownership is not apparent, the involvement of government in the control of the provider is the most important distinction. Control is defined as the potential to affect strategic decision-making, either through funding or accountability requirements. 


Partner: Higher Education Division, Ministry of Education Chile

Inbound/International Student: Students who arrive in Chile (crossing a border) with the specific intention of studying at a Chilean higher education institution

Foreign Student: Individuals who immigrate to Chile for any other reason and then decide to study in Chile’s higher education system. Foreign students are not reflected in the Project Atlas data.

Private Higher Education Institution: All institutions created after 1981, are not created by law, and are not derived from existing institutions before that year.


Partner: China Scholarship Council (CSC)

China's definitions conform with Project Atlas definitions.


Partner: Danish Agency For Higher Education

Inbound/International Student: An international full-degree student is a student who has moved to Denmark for the purpose of studying. A foreign student is a student holding a foreign citizenship, but who has resided in Denmark for more than a year prior to the beginning of his/her studies. These students are not considered international students.

Outbound Student: A full-degree outbound student is a student who receives the Danish study abroad grant ("Udlandsstipendieordningen"). An exchange outbound student is a student who participates in an exchange visit of at least three months at a higher education institution abroad. 

Dominican Republic

Partner: Connect DR

Inbound/International Student: Individuals who cross the border for the purpose of studying in the Dominican Republic and do not change their residency status from their original point of origin.

Foreign Student: The Dominican Republic does not differentiate between international and foreign students. Outbound Student: Dominican citizens who have accepted a MESCyT scholarship program to study abroad. Note that this is a limited definition reflecting the reported data supplemented from the MESCyT 2014 report under the international scholarship program and does not include other out-bound mobility.

Higher Education Institution (HEI): Entities that offer professional and academic training at the post-secondary level (Higher Education Law 39-01 Article 22).

Public HEI: A HEI receiving its main source of funding from the Dominican Republic government (informal definition).

Private HEI: A HEI that does not receive funding from the Dominican Republic government (informal definition).


Partner: The Centre for International Mobility (CIMO)

Inbound/International Student: A degree/qualification student is a student with a foreign nationality pursuing a full-degree from a higher education institution in Finland. This includes foreign students and graduate and post-graduate students. A study abroad/non-award student is an international student in Finnish higher education who is participating in study periods and trainee placements for at least three months. These activities count towards the exchange student's degree at his/her home university (credit mobility). A foreign student is a higher education student who does not hold a Finnish citizenship including students who are legal residents of Finland. These students are included in Finland’s data submitted to Project Atlas.

Outbound Student: A degree/qualification student is a Finnish individual who receives student financial aid from the government (Social Insurance Institution (SII)) to pursue a full-degree undertaken at a foreign institution. A study abroad/non-award study student is a student who participates in educational activities abroad that count towards his/her degree in Finland (including internships etc.).

Higher Education Institution (HEI): Individual legal entities that provide higher education. The division between Public and Private HEIs is not very relevant in Finland. Universities in Finland develop their own budgets and activities and are responsible for their finances and functions, etc. On the other hand, there is some public steering because a substantial amount of universities’ budgets come from the Ministry of Education (government). Also, universities hold performance negotiations with the Ministry of Education on issues such as number of entrants and fields of study offered.


Partner: CampusFrance

Inbound/International Student: The Ministry of Education, Ministry of Higher Education and Research, France defines an international student as an individual with a foreign citizenship enrolled in a program at a French higher education institution for at least one year to receive an officially approved national degree or university diploma (full-degree/qualification). These students include non-French citizen legal residents of France and those who received their secondary diploma in France. France awards both short-stay student visas (three months) and long-stay student visas that is renewable with a residence permit (one year).

Foreign Student: France does not differentiate between international and foreign students.

Outbound Student: A French student who pursues a full-degree in another country. The definition excludes language study abroad or short-term/quarterly exchanges.

Higher Education Institution: French higher education bodies include universities, polytechnics, university training institutes (teacher in elementary schools), the higher technical sections, preparatory classes for business/management/engineering schools, engineering schools, management and business schools, paramedical and social schools.


Partner: German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)

Inbound/International Student: The Federal Statistical Office, Germany uses a combination of citizenship and prior country of education for defining their two international student categories: (1) Bildungsauslaender (non-resident students), including students with a foreign citizenship who gained their higher education entrance qualification at a foreign school (including German schools abroad) and/or complemented their foreign school qualifications by attending a German Studienkolleg (preparatory course for higher education admission). Student visa and length of stay are not relevant. (2) Bildungsinlaender (non-citizen students), including students with a foreign citizenship who gained their higher education entrance qualification or completed their secondary level education in Germany school or who passed a Gifted Students Test (Begabtenprüfung) or an Aptitude Test (Eignungsprüfung) - not only at Colleges of art and music - in Germany.

Note that prior to 2014/15, all International Students in Germany data reflect both Bildungsauslaender and Bildungsinlaender student enrollments.

Foreign Student: Please see Bildungsinlaender definition.

Outbound Student: German students enrolled at a higher education institution in another country.

Higher Education Institution (HEI): The Federal Statistical Office, Germany documents all German higher education institutions that are recognized by the law of the state in which they are located, regardless of how they are funded (public or private institutions). HEIs serve to cultivate and develop science and art through research, teaching and studies. They prepare students for professions which require the formation and application of academic and scientific knowledge and methods or the ability to engage in artistic creativity.

Public HEI: Higher education institutions with a public funding body.

Private HEI: Higher education institutions with a private funding body (including church-funding bodies).


Partner: Association of Indian Universities (AIU)

India's definitions conform with Project Atlas definitions.


Partner: Education Ireland

Inbound/International Student: A student who undertakes part, or all of their higher education experience in Ireland, if Ireland is not their country of domicile. Data reported to Project Atlas only reflect full-time enrollments on a full program of study. This includes inbound Erasmus students, Junior Year Abroad students, Overseas campus students, other inbound exchange students.

Outbound Student: A student participating in Erasmus and other short-term/exchange outbound education abroad experiences.

Private Higher Education Institution (HEI): Generally, a higher education institution that does not receive state funding. For Education in Ireland purposes, private HEIs who fall under their national qualifications framework, are government recognized and sign up to a code of practice in relation to student welfare.


Partner: Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO)

Inbound/International Student: A student from a foreign economy who is receiving an education at any Japanese university, graduate school, junior college, college of technology, professional training college or university preparatory course and who resides in Japan with a "college student" visa status. Data provided reflects both degree/qualification students and short-term/non-award study students with length of stay in Japan ranging anywhere from 4 years and 3 months to 3 months.

Foreign Student: A foreign national enrolled in Japanese higher education who is granted residency status but does not hold a student visa. Foreign students are not considered international students and are not reflected in data provided to Project Atlas.

Outbound Student: A Japanese student who studies abroad in another country for the purpose of education or research in accordance with student exchange agreements between Japanese HEIs and HEIs in other countries.

Higher Education Institution (HEI): Although there is no clearly recognized definition in Japan for what constitutes a HEI, the following entities are included in the analysis: universities, graduate schools, junior colleges, colleges of technology and specialized training colleges.

Public HEI: A HEI established by the Japanese federal or local governments. HEIs established by the central government are defined as national HEIs, while institutions established by local authorities are termed public HEIs.

Private HEI: Any HEI established by an incorporated educational institution.


Partner: The Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia

Outbound student: Malaysian students pursuing full-degree programs or post-graduates abroad. This does not include students who attend short-term courses overseas.

Private Higher Education Institution: Organizations or educational institutions, including universities, colleges, and branch campuses approved and registered under the Private Higher Educational Institutions Act 1996 (Act 555) which is not established or maintained by the Government.


Reported Mexico academic mobility data is made available by the National Association of Universities and Higher Education Institutions’ (ANUIES) Patlani Report.

Inbound/International Student: A non-resident foreign national who crosses the border into Mexico for the primary objective of engaging in educational activities at a Mexican higher education institution. Forms of mobility include both full-degree and non-award short-term students.

Outbound Student: A Mexican student enrolled at a Mexican HEI who pursues short-term or exchange educational activities abroad.

Higher Education Institution (HEI): An entity recognized by the State that offers post-high school education or its equivalent and may provide undergraduate, specialty, masters or PHD level studies.

Public HEI: HEIs funded by the State and include: federal institutions; public state universities; technological institutes; and technological universities.

Private HEI: HEIs that are self-funded and self-administrated.


Partner:  Netherlands Organization for International Cooperation in Higher Education (NUFFIC)

Inbound/International Student: An individual who has crossed a national border into the Netherlands with the purpose of studying at a higher education institution. The criterion for being an internationally mobile student in the Netherlands is the country where a student completed his or her high school degree (for full-degree/qualification students) or country where he or she is enrolled in a full higher education program (for credit point mobility students who are defined as students crossing a border with the purpose of obtaining credit points for a full-degree program back in the country of origin). Therefore, Dutch nationals who are mobile or “homecoming students” are included in this definition. All EP-Nuffic reporting prior to 2015-16 used a student’s nationality as the criterion for mobility. Data submitted to Project Atlas only reflects full-degree/qualification (bachelor’s and master’s) which reflects the majority of inbound mobility to the Netherlands.

Outbound Student: A student with a Dutch nationality pursuing education in another country. All information on outgoing Dutch full-degree students is supplemented from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS).

Public Higher Education Institution (HEI): Constitute the majority of HEIs in the Netherlands.

Private HEI: Data submitted to Project Atlas only reflect international students in public HEIs.

New Zealand

Partner: New Zealand Ministry of Education

Inbound/International Student: Individuals studying in New Zealand without New Zealand or Australian citizenship or permanent residence status and who are required to pay international fees for their study or who have specific fees exemptions set in regulations. Students studying off-shore at higher education providers that are registered in New Zealand are considered international students unless they hold New Zealand citizenship. Off-shore students are excluded from data reported for Project Atlas. Excluded education forms include: non-formal learning and on-job industry training; students on exchange schemes and foreign research based post-graduates.

Outbound Student: A New Zealand student enrolled in overseas public higher education institutions. New Zealand supplements outbound mobility data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

Higher Education Institution (HEI): Also referred to as Tertiary Education Organizations (TEO).

Public HEI: Or public providers are all TEOs that are approved by the Crown (government), and are funded by the government depending on the number of students and type of study. Public providers include universities, institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITPs) and wānangas (HEIs providing education in a Māori cultural context).

Private HEI: Referred to as Private Training Establishments (PTE), these are HEIs that provide post-school education and vocational training. Some PTEs are partially funded by the government depending on the number of students and type of study.

Data from the New Zealand Ministry of Education include students from vocation and technical post-secondary institutions.


Partner:  Norwegian Centre for International Cooperation in Education (SIU)

Inbound/International Student: Non-Norwegian foreign nationals including those residing in Norway who are studying at Norwegian higher education institutions.

Foreign Student: Norway does not differentiate between foreign and international students.

Outbound Student: Degree and non-degree seeking Norwegian citizens who are pursuing a full-degree at a HEI abroad or who are exchange students abroad for a minimum of 3 months.

Higher Education Institution (HEI): While there is no single formal definition for Norwegian HEIs, laws exist to regulate the activities of both State-owned and privately-owned universities and colleges.

Public HEI: HEIs that are State owned.

Private HEI: HEIs that are privately owned.

Republic of the Philippines

Partner: The Commission on Higher Education (CHED)

Higher Education Institution (HEI): Institutions that serve as platforms to host, build and develop a corps of young, world-class scientists, researchers and professionals.

Public HEI: State universities and colleges whose operations are funded by government.

Private HEI: Stock or non-stock education institutions that sustain their operations through their tuition and fees


Partner: Center for Sociological Research, Ministry of Education and Science

Inbound/International Student: An individual with a foreign citizenship enrolled at a government-accredited public or private higher education entity in Russia - regardless of legal residency status in Russia. There are two distinct forms of study for international students in Russia: (1) Full-time or day studies, and (2) Part-time studies, including international students enrolled in adult and evening classes, or expedited and correspondence (online) education forms. All part-time international students must be physically in Russia every semester to attend orientation, training, and exams at their Russian HEI. Part-time students are expected to stay a minimum of one month in Russia every academic year.

There are two student visa types for international students in Russia: “Courses” visas are for short-term non-degree mobility including Summer or Winter Schools and preparatory faculty.

“Studies” are for full- degree/qualification mobility. Citizens of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan don't need student visas.

Foreign student: Russia does not distinguish between foreign and international students.

Outbound Student: A Russian student enrolled at a Russian HEI at the undergraduate or graduate level who studies abroad.

Higher Education Institution (HEI): HEI is a public or private entity that provides professional higher education with official degree/qualification award.

Public HEI: A HEI financed by the Russian Ministry of Education and Science (mostly) or other federal entities (for example, Ministry of Healthcare), or by regional and municipal entities (rarely).

Private HEI: A HEI founded and financed by private sources.

South Africa

Partner: The International Education Association of South Africa (IEASA)

Inbound/International Student: The Department of Education, South Africa defines an international student as typically, a non-South African. In cases of dual citizenship, if the first country recorded by a student is not South Africa, then that student is considered an international student.


Partner: Spanish Service for the Internationalization of Education (SEPIE)

Inbound/International Student: The Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sports, Spain uses the UNESCO, OECD, and Eurostat (UOE) definition for internationally mobile students prioritizing prior education and usual residence to define internationally mobile students. This encompasses all individuals – regardless of nationality - crossing borders into Spain for educational purposes. 

Foreign Student: Students with a nationality other than Spanish pursuing higher education in Spain regardless of residency status.

Outbound Student: Students enrolled in Spanish higher education institutions who pursue exchange or short-term education abroad.


Partner : The Swedish Institute (Si)

Inbound/International Student:  An individual who crosses national borders into Sweden to pursue education. The term is divided into two categories: (1) Exchange students are persons taking part in an organized exchange program, and (2) Free movers, including persons with residence study permits entering Sweden less than two years before beginning their studies; persons entering Sweden less than six months before starting their studies; and persons in the national student database without a national registration number. To receive a study permit, a student needs to have been accepted at a HEI in Sweden, paid the installment fee, and demonstrated that he or she has funding to cover living expenses for the duration of the study permit, sometimes granted one year at time. 

Only students enrolled in degree/qualifications programs or are receiving credits for a degree back at their home institutions are included in Sweden’s definition of an international student.

Foreign Student: Sweden does not differentiate between international and foreign students.

Outbound Student: Outbound student’s Swedish students pursuing degree/qualifications abroad or those participating in for-credit short-term or exchange programs for credit back at their institution in Sweden.

Higher Education Institution (HEI):  HEIs are "accredited" and regulated by the Swedish Higher Education Authority. Only officially recognized HEIs can award credits and awards within the Swedish higher education system, which entitles students to student loans. Other tertiary institutions that offer professional degrees exist too. But students at these institutions do not get credits, are not awarded degrees and cannot get public student loans.

Public HEI: Public HEIs in Sweden are legally, public authorities or agencies.

Private HEI: Private - or independent - HEIs are legally and financially independent entities but also receive public funding for education and research. 

United Arab Emirates

Partner: The Center for Higher Education Data and Statistics

Inbound/International Student:  Non-Emirati citizens pursuing higher education in the United Arab Emirates regardless of residency status in the country.

United Kingdom

Partner: British Council

International Student: For purposes of collection, students are defined by their country of domicile i.e. "the students' permanent or home address prior to entry to the programme of study." International students are those who are not UK-domiciled.

United States

Source: Open Doors Report 2016, IIE

Inbound/International Student: Individuals studying in the United States on a non-immigrant, temporary visa that allows for academic study at the post- secondary level. Immigrants, permanent residents, citizens, resident aliens ("Green Card" holders), and refugees are excluded from this definition.  These students include both degree and non-degree students.

Foreign Student: The United States does not differentiate between foreign and international students.

Outbound Student: United States students (citizens and permanent residents) who are enrolled in U.S. higher education institutions, who study abroad for a short period of time, and then return to their home institutions in the United States to complete their degrees.

Higher Education Institution (HEI): A degree- awarding institution that is accredited at the college level by an agency or association recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. These schools offer at least a one-year program of study creditable toward a degree and students are eligible for participation in Title IV Federal financial aid programs. Institutions that offer only non-degree awards, such as vocational certificates, are not included.

Public HEI: Educational institutions whose programs and activities are operated by publicly elected or appointed school officials and which are supported primarily by public funds.

Private HEI: Institutions controlled by a private individual(s) or by a non- governmental agency, and are usually supported primarily by non-public funds, and operated by other than publicly elected or appointed officials. These institutions may be either for-profit or not- for-profit