Overseas students are getting better at finding the best deal. As a result, Geoff Maslen reports, the UK risks losing out to cheaper competitors
Britain has the highest living costs among the main English-speaking nations for foreign students, according to a new report, sparking fears that British universities could lose out in the lucrative market for overseas students.
An investigation into the living and study expenses of overseas students reveals that it is cheaper to live in America, Canada, New Zealand and Australia than in Britain.
Study costs at British universities are the second most expensive, exceeded only by private and some public universities in the US.
British and Australian universities have to work much harder to capitalise on the global demand for international education, warns a report on the research.
The report, by Australian recruiting agency IDP Education in collaboration with the Centre for International Economics, says that today's foreign students are "more savvy".
It attributes this to the wide range of information available from sources including agents, exhibitions, the internet and marketing initiatives.
"This implies that students will look for a wider range of options than in the past," it says.
"Some of these options will be the possibility of studying in Asia, where good-quality education and good employment outcomes at an affordable cost are offered," the report adds.
But the British Council, which leads the UK's efforts to recruit international students, questioned some aspects of the survey - specifically assumptions about the level of fees in US public universities, where "sticker" prices are often discounted.
Neil Kemp, director of the council's UK marketing division, said that the report's messages were directed towards the Australian Government. These were specifically that Asian study destinations were the major competitor and that longer courses, particularly at postgraduate level, made Australia relatively uncompetitive "Our studies suggest that demand for quality higher education is not quite so price sensitive. The message we are getting is the perception that the UK represents a quality education."
The researchers reviewed tuition costs for nearly 600 courses in business, information technology and engineering - the most popular among foreign students -along with living expenses. The cost of studying in each country was calculated by adding average tuition fees, health cover and expenses such as study materials to the cost of living.
The report says the cost of living in Britain is equivalent to $11,150 (£6,060) a year, while in Australia it exceeded $9,500 for the first time this year. Living expenses in the US and Canada are lower, at $9,000 a year each, while New Zealand is least expensive at $8,700.
Of six Asian countries, the annual cost of living ranges from $7,080 in Hong Kong to $1,515 in India. Singapore is the second most expensive place to live for foreign students, requiring a yearly outlay of $6,410 compared with $5,220 in China, $3,785 in Malaysia and $2,900 in Thailand.
Marcelo Follari, IDP researcher, and David Pearce, CIE collaborator, said:
"The key implication from these results is that it is possible for students to live in some emerging study destinations in Asia quite cheaply, particularly when compared with the main destination countries."
Although the Asian countries are much cheaper, the length of a course is a crucial component in the total costs. So while the mean fee per year to study for a bachelor of business degree in China is a mere $2,700, the total cost of living and studying there for four years amounts to $31,700.
In Britain, the average tuition fee is about $14,750 and the total cost of living and studying over three years including fees is nearly $78,500.
Next week: World University Rankings