Vaccine rollout makes UK more attractive to international students, survey suggests

The data from the QS annual International Student Survey suggests nearly a fifth of international students have brought forward study plans as a result of the global vaccine rollout

Nearly half of prospective international students think the UK is a more attractive place to study because of the relative speed of the vaccine rollout – as the number of doses given in the UK reaches nearly 46.3 million – a new survey suggests.

The data comes from QS annual International Student Survey (ISS), published today (26 April). It is the largest survey of pre-enrolled international students hoping to study overseas – and this year includes responses from more than 105,000 learners worldwide. Roughly 47% (48,722) said they were interested in studying at universities in the UK, following positive global coverage of the UK vaccination program.

Nearly one in five (17%) of those reportedly interested in studying in the UK said it was the country with the best Covid vaccination plan, but 45% said the UK had not responded to the pandemic effectively, a much lower score than for New Zealand, Canada, Australia and Germany.

According to the latest government statistics, more than 33.7 million people have now received their first dose, and almost 12.6 million have received both doses of a Covid vaccine.

Nearly a fifth (19%) of prospective international students have purportedly brought forward plans to study abroad as a result of the global vaccine rollout, the QS survey suggests.

A report that accompanies the QS survey results suggests that UK higher education providers “leverage” the perception that the UK is a safe destination for international study to increase enrolment figures.

The government’s four-stage plan to exit lockdown says that it will lift most restrictions in England from 21 June if infections, hospitalisations and deaths do not increase. If that occurs, England’s more than 100 universities may restart in-person teaching for all students at the start of the 2021-22 academic year. According to the QS survey, 52% of current international students in the UK believe their university has effectively delivered online teaching during the pandemic.

Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International (UUKi), said the government and universities “have an exciting opportunity to help support recovery from the Covid-19 crisis and, as we look to the future, drive growth in new markets”.

Universities have an exciting opportunity to help support recovery from the Covid-19 crisis and, as we look to the future, drive growth in new markets
– Vivienne Stern, Universities UK International

Aside from Covid-19, the survey suggests that the perceived hospitality of the UK to international students gives the nation’s universities a competitive advantage. More than half (52%) of survey respondents think the most significant consideration in choosing a place to study is how welcoming the country is to international students: on this score, 58% think the UK is becoming “more welcoming” to international students. European students, however, perceived the UK to be less welcoming now they are subject to higher tuition fees from September as a result of Brexit.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) and author of the ISS report foreword, described the results as “compelling”, given its size and international reach.

“I hope the managers and governors of universities will reflect upon the data presented in the report when determining the use of their resources,” he continued. “One stand-out finding is the huge importance international students place on access to careers support. It is an enormous step to travel to another country to study, but people do it often in order to help them secure a fulfilling career afterwards. We must do all we can to help them achieve that ambition.”

Read more: Welsh Government announces new International Learning Exchange programme

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