The representation of students from abroad among U.S. doctorate recipients – particularly in science and engineering – has increased dramatically in recent decades. In this paper, we model the flow of students from abroad into U.S. doctoral programs, showing how changes in access to the U.S. education market correspond to changes in the granting of U.S. doctorates to students from particular countries. More generally, we suggest the potential for an important dynamic whereby the initial flow of students into the U.S. from countries with sufficiently strong growth trajectories eventually expands the capacity of the local higher education institutions and skill-intensive industries. To the extent that doctoral recipients return to their home countries, then, “brain drain” and attendant negative net flows are not inevitable consequences from the flow of students into the U.S. at the graduate level.
Focusing on China, Eastern European countries, and the former Soviet states, we note a clear pattern: opening markets to trade and reducing travel restrictions coincide with an immediate and sharp increase in the entry of foreign graduate students, leading to U.S. doctorates for students from other nations. Our analysis suggests that access to U.S. universities and their doctoral programs may be especially important for those nations with transitioning economies, which may have long-term demand for highly skilled labor but little short-term capacity within their own universities to produce these skills.
Country of focus: United States.