Only 17% of international students making UK their first-choice

Survey warns of resurgence of US higher education and likely rebound of the Australian market

New research into the attitudes of international students has highlighted the threat posed to UK universities by the US, Australia and Canada.

The worldwide New Horizons research, by international education specialists IDP Connect, surveyed over 3,600 respondents from over 20 countries – including India, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia – who have either applied, have an offer to study or are already studying in the UK, Australia, Canada, the US and New Zealand.

According to the survey, only 17 per cent of international students consider the UK their first-choice destination – this is level with the US and one percentage point ahead of Australia.

Career opportunities, the cost of living, part-time work opportunities and affordability of fees were the main factors influencing their decisions, with return on investment more of a priority than ever.

Two-thirds of students said that access to post-study work rights in the country of their institution would make them more likely to consider studying there; and 63 per-cent said the ability to use their qualification as a pathway to migration made the study option more attractive.

The UK needs to become significantly more effective at promoting policies such as the Graduate Route Visa, as our research has shown that awareness of this is still not as widespread as it needs to be – Simon Emmett, IDP Connect

IDP Connect also found that that the UK has slipped from joint first in August 2019 to third in terms of search demand share for international students, behind the US and Canada.

The sector’s concerns over the UK’s attractiveness to international students have grown in recent weeks.

According to Ucas analysis in September, the number of international students that have accepted places at UK universities is down by 19%. Acceptances have risen 5% among non-EU students, but the numbers coming from within the EU have plummeted by more than half (56%). At the same time, concerns were raised by UUKi that the UK had lost market share in 17 key nations that were the bedrock of overseas student recruitment, and that the successful delivery of the new graduate visa route is vital to maintaining the global competitiveness of the UK higher education sector. This was followed by a Hepi study concluding that international students are a net economic benefit of £25.9 billion to the UK if the cost of their stay, put at £2.9 billion, is taken into account.

Calling for the government to help universities across the UK collectively make the case for studying in the UK, Simon Emmett, chief executive officer for IDP Connect said:

“The UK sector cannot afford to let this year’s success mask the looming challenges.

“With the US now back in the game and Australia primed for a rebound in 2022, it’s more essential than ever that the sector makes the case for study in the UK, placing the UK sector at the heart of growing economic global revolution and attracting the brightest and best talent in the world.

“The UK needs to become significantly more effective at promoting policies such as the Graduate Route Visa, as our research has shown that awareness of this is still not as widespread as it needs to be. The government needs to seriously consider a move to a three-year post study work option providing greater flexibility and talent pools for UK employers. Through this, students can then seek out routes to migration allowing them to work in high skilled and high value sectors that UK currently finds difficult to fill vacancies for.

“We know from all available research that alongside the quality of teaching and a culturally rich campus offer, migration pathways are a key incentive for international students considering their options. There has never been a better time for universities across the UK to collectively make the case not just for studying in the UK, but for the many and varied benefits that the UK has to offer students from around the world.”


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