A more global market threatens British dominance in overseas education
Britain and the United States have slumped as first choices for study among young people from predominantly Islamic countries, a British Council survey has found.
But the council believes the decline represents the higher international profile of other potential destinations such as Australia, Canada and Japan rather than the September 11 effect and other political factors.
The US and the UK were still the most popular potential study destinations among almost 5,000 respondents aged 15-25 living in major cities in nine countries with substantial Muslim populations. The Connecting Futures study, published by the council this week, shows that the US was the first choice for 32 per cent, with the UK second with 21 per cent.
The UK was the first choice in Malaysia, and second choice in Bangladesh, Nigeria, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
But a comparison for the seven countries that were also surveyed by the council in 1999-2000 for its Through Other Eyes report showed what the council called a "worrying trend".
Combined figures for Bangladesh, Egypt, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey showed 22 per cent giving the UK as their first choice, compared with 32 per cent in 1999-2000. The US figure fell from 49 per cent to 35 per cent.
Particularly steep declines were detected in Egypt and Malaysia, where the percentage opting for the UK fell by half. But the overall figures mask one contradiction: in Pakistan, the percentage choosing the UK increased over the period, bucking the downward trend in the six other countries.
The two reports surveyed slightly different age groups. The 1999-2000 study covered the population as a whole. This week's report focused on a specific group of young people, but - worryingly for the UK - it is a section of society more likely to be considering higher education overseas.
In the Connecting Futures research, more students identified Australia, Canada and Japan as first-choice alternatives. The figure for those countries combined was 26 per cent, up from 11 per cent in 1999-2000. For all nine countries covered (also including Indonesia and Turkey), the first-choice figure for these three destinations rose to 31 per cent.
Australia was the preferred choice in Indonesia, and it significantly increased its share in Malaysia (from 7 per cent to 18 per cent) and in Bangladesh (from 7 per cent to 19 per cent).
Canada was the first choice in Palestine - one case where the council conceded that politics might have had an effect in offering an acceptable alternative to the US. In Indonesia, Japan was equal second with the US, and the UK was relegated to fourth place. Japan also increased its popularity in Malaysia vastly, from 2 per cent to 24 per cent of first choices.
But the council drew some comfort from the UK's performance as a second-choice destination. Compared with the previous survey, there was a rise in the perceived credibility of UK qualifications in Pakistan and Turkey, but a marked drop in Nigeria and Egypt, due partly to the sudden upsurge of popularity for Japan among Nigerians and the inclusion in the survey of other European destinations, which had a marked effect on Egyptian choices.
"Clearly people do not make their study choices - whether real or hypothetical - on the basis of credibility of qualifications aloneI. Cost, distance, language, personal security, cultural and political factors all enter the equation," the report says.