Question of standards: Overseas students flock to UK for quality of teaching

September 30, 2010

A new report finds that overseas students hoping to study in the UK are enthusiasts for the quality of education - and warns of increased competition in a "more sophisticated" global market.

The latest edition of the British Council's Student Decision Making Survey includes information gathered from more than 115,000 students in 200 countries over the past three and a half years.

Of those students selecting the UK as their ideal destination, 59 per cent say they consider quality of education the top priority - the highest rating of any destination country on that criterion.

Prospective students aiming to study in the US are most likely to focus on enhancing their career prospects (38 per cent). Those with their eyes on Australia or Canada are more inclined to see the opportunity to work while studying as a key consideration (24 per cent), while those seeking a place in Germany are most likely to see low tuition fees as a priority (25 per cent).

But overall the "cost of studying overseas does not feature strongly when students are choosing a study destination", according to the survey: only one in 10 respondents cites low tuition fees as one of the three most vital factors in their decisions.

Only 1.8 per cent of respondents select "obtaining a visa" as a top priority when choosing a destination. But the survey report adds that the visa process becomes a more prominent concern between a year and 18 months before the start of courses and eases off as they approach.

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, five countries attract a combined 50 per cent of all students studying outside their home nations: the US (19 per cent), the UK (10 per cent), Germany, France and Australia (each with 7 per cent).

The British Council report notes that while the UK is "a market leader", it faces a "more sophisticated market", with growing threats from other nations. "Having traditionally drawn students who are comfortable with the English language, the UK is now competing with non-English-speaking countries offering tuition in English," the report says. "In addition, some of the key countries for international students are investing heavily in their domestic higher education systems, making study abroad less attractive at undergraduate level."

The British Council is on a list of 94 quangos and other public bodies listed as "under review" amid government cuts.

Steve Smith, president of Universities UK, said the body's international networks help universities build links with global partners - relationships that contribute "over £5 billion to the UK economy every year". He added: "At a time when our international competitors are putting considerable resources into catching up with the UK, we cannot afford to take a step back."

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