Introduction to the International Student Forecasting and Analytics Model (ISAFM)




ISAFM is a collaborative, multi-disciplinary, and multi-year effort rooted in the doctoral research of ICG’s Managing Director, Dr. Daniel J. Guhr.


ISAFM was conceived as a tool for introducing evidence-based, expert-derived analytical rigor into the comprehensive analysis and forecasting of international (higher education) student flows.


With the latter heading towards four million students enrolled outside their home country – and an economic impact of around USD 80 billion annually – educating international students around the globe has become an industry which requires industrial-strength research, analysis, and forecasting.



ISAFM Properties


By considering gender, subject matter (study field), and degree level, ISAFM predicts student enrollments at a granular level three years into the future. If data allows, ISAFM can operate with a matrix of these sub-variables, thereby allowing for unprecedented student pool segmentation.


ISAFM considers both the external student supply landscape as well as the internal (client) national, state/provincial, or institutional demand landscape. By matching the former to the latter based on capacity, capability, and policy as well as strategic development parameters, ISAFM steps away from a mere normative supply-based model. Instead, it interprets the model-based forecast using the mentioned parameters and delivers policy and strategy advice rather than just a data file.


This release of ISAFM (1.1) is based on more than 1.9 million data points, and more than 120 variables organized in five major categories. The key countries also covered in-depth in the model account for more than 80% of in-coming and out-going international students worldwide.


The current release, which contains all structural properties of subsequent planned release versions, marks an intermediate step on the way to a fully integrated System Dynamics-based analytical model which ICG aims to release in the fall of 2012.



ISAFM Limitations and Responses


ISAFM as an analytical and predictive modeling tool does not claim to be perfect. Gaps in publicly available data, the broad scope of ISAFM, and inherent uncertainties about the development of the world three years into the future introduce methodological challenges which even the best model cannot solve completely. As a response, ISAFM is employing a wide array of statistical and forecasting methods to reduce errors and variability as much as possible.


ICG is also developing Scenarios as a response to the fact that ISAFM is not geared towards forecasting disruptive events such as pandemics, civil wars, major economic crises, and so on. These Scenarios are based on subsets of data of the overall ISAFM data model and focus on predicting the impact of such events on student flows.


A third response is based on the ISAFM development roadmap ICG has created which addresses data and modeling aspects of ISAFM which will be further developed until the fall of 2012 with the planned release of Version 1.4.



ISAFM: Entering the Age of Analytics in International Education


ISAFM’s mission is as simple as it is ambitious: To assist in ushering in the age of analytics in international education. On behalf of ICG and the entire ISAFM Team, I look forward to this journey.