A reputation for quality is the only factor keeping the US and the UK ahead of other English-speaking countries as international education magnets, a survey suggests.
The poll of almost 3,000 current and prospective international students found that the US is regarded as the best destination for course quality but the worst for affordability, safety and ease of obtaining visas.
Canada tops the ranking on these three measures and is closing the gap on the US and the UK in perceptions of the quality of its courses, according to the research by educational services company IDP Education.
Canada also ranks first on ease of securing post-study employment, the survey found.
The “buyer behaviour” survey, unveiled at the Australian International Education Conference in Sydney on 10 October, offers clues on how policy posturing influences views about different destination countries.
It shows that expense is a major deterrent to study in the US, the UK and Australia, with America slipping behind Britain to rank as the least price-friendly destination. The US has also given ground to its competitor countries on students’ judgements about safety and access to visas, as evidenced by a similar survey conducted last year.
The UK has improved its safety image, but it remains the worst performer – by a considerable margin – in perceptions of graduate employment opportunities.
Australia’s reputation for safety has also improved. Nevertheless, it lingers behind Canada and New Zealand in views about personal security, visa availability and cost. “Affordability continues to be a major concern,” said Lyndell Jacka, IDP’s head of research.
She said that 38 per cent of respondents had expressed dissatisfaction with the ease of finding jobs to help compensate for Australia’s high prices. “The inability to gain part-time work to financially support their study and living needs could negatively impact their international study experience,” she said.
While the perceptions were little changed from those uncovered last year, with Canada regarded favourably by internationally mobile students, the survey attracted fewer participants than last year’s 4,200.
The respondents were skewed, as in 2017, with 50 per cent coming from India. China – easily the biggest source country of international students – provided just 7 per cent of the responses. Chinese students tend to be more brand-conscious and less concerned about cost than their Indian counterparts.
The survey found that despite a wealth of online information, students sought personal advice before making final decisions about where to study.
Ms Jacka said that today’s “digital natives” still relied on the reflections of relatives, friends, alumni or experts. “While students have online forums, reviews, live chat and university comparison websites at their fingertips, they still highly value advice from those within their personal networks,” she said.
The survey found that students made considerable use of websites and online forums during their initial research, but less so when making their final decisions. Their reliance on agents, rankings and alumni increased as they progressed from scanning to selecting.