International students consider the UK a close rival to the US as the best study destination in the world, the findings of a major new survey have revealed.
The UK emerged top as the country of preference among prospective university students in India, Nigeria and America, and second only to the US among Chinese pupils in a survey of more than 28,000 international students.
International Recruitment, which surveys students from 50 countries, published its findings at the British Council conference this week.
The data show that the main reasons for international students rating British higher education so highly were the UK's reputation for academic excellence and a strong perception that a British degree would open up attractive career prospects on returning home.
But there were also signs that escalating tuition fees and the high cost of living in Britain were in danger of pricing overseas students out of the UK market.
Chinese students were inclined to consider British higher education as representing poor value for money, and students from all countries surveyed, apart from the US, disagreed that the cost was reasonable compared with other study destinations.
Students from all four countries saw course fees and the cost of living as by far the greatest barriers to coming to study in the UK. This was despite the fact that many seriously underestimated the actual cost. A third of Chinese university students, for instance, expected to pay annual fees of less than £3,000 in the UK.
British institutions were also considered to be slightly elitist, as well as "posh" and "formal". Since most students said they preferred institutions that were "open", "down to earth" and "informal", these findings present further marketing challenges.
Jo Wilson, research manager at Hobsons, commented: "While it is not unusual for students' perceptions to be at odds with their behaviour, this finding highlights the importance placed on the areas where the UK falls short of expectations.
"In particular, the UK is perceived to be slightly posh and elitist, words that do not suggest that the UK is the friendliest country - something that we know plays a crucial part in students' decisions about where to study abroad."
Which country or countries would you like to study in?
- US (67%)
- UK (63.1%)
- Australia (.6%)
- Canada (26.7%)
What do you think are the main barriers to studying in the UK?
- High cost of living (73%)
- High course fees (65%)
- Hard to get visa (22%)
- I don't know anybody there (18.3%)
- Little ability to work while studying (14%)