Just one in 17 prospective international students sees settling permanently in the UK as the main aim of a university education in the country, a survey has found.
The ability to work while studying is a bigger draw for such students than post-graduation employment rights, the research also shows.
Hobsons, which handles international student enquiries for a number of UK universities, received almost 6,000 responses to a survey it ran in March on students who had enquired in the previous two years.
The findings come after intense - and seemingly unsuccessful - lobbying by the sector to remove students from the government’s target to cut annual net migration to the “tens of thousands” by 2015.
Using the survey responses, Hobsons grouped the students - who are all considering studying in the UK - into seven categories, including “emigrant”, a type of applicant whose primary concern is permanent settlement.
This category constitutes just 6 per cent of the respondents.
Duncan Findlater, director of product and client services at Hobsons, said the results confirmed that most overseas students “want to use their education to get a better life and job when they go home”.
When asked why they had chosen the UK as a study destination, the top three reasons given by respondents are: international recognition of qualifications; safety; and enhanced job prospects back home.
The ability to work while studying is ranked as more important than improved job prospects in the UK, a finding that may provide some comfort to the sector after the automatic right to work for two years post- graduation was scrapped last year. This may also explain why private colleges - where overseas students have lost the right to work - have been harder hit in recruitment terms than universities.
“Another finding was just how many students chose their…course before country,” said Mr Findlater, adding this meant that university marketing departments should feature course data more prominently than information about the UK. Less than 10 per cent of students select the university before the course or country, and nearly 80 per cent chose their university only after they had put in a number of applications.
Almost a third of the students also considered applying to the US, while a fifth contemplated Australia or Canada. Just 0.5 per cent pondered Germany and 0.3 per cent France.
Meanwhile, although university websites, electronic prospectuses and email correspondence are the top-ranked sources of information for the students, parents are judged to have the biggest influence over applicant decisions.