UK begins to rival US in popularity stakes

Perceived safety and high standards help to make Britain a top student destination. John Gill reports.

January 31, 2008

The UK is now challenging US supremacy as the most popular destination for international students, according to a study of more than 11,000 students.

A survey of students from 143 countries by the research firm i-graduate found that 95 per cent rated the UK an "attractive" or "very attractive" place to study, compared with 93 per cent for the US.

Although the US remained ahead of the UK in the "very attractive" category - scoring 60 per cent compared with 52 per cent - it was also seen by more international students as an "unattractive" destination.

Bill Rammell, the Minister for Higher Education, said: "The results of this survey just confirm that international students recognise the value of studying in the UK. The extremely high standard and quality of higher education ensures that students will continue to come to study here in large numbers.

"International students also bring many benefits to the UK. They bring an international perspective to our campuses, they help maintain the UK's world-class research base, and they provide a valuable source of income for our universities and indeed for the economy more widely."

According to the report, one of the main reasons the UK has fared so well is its reputation as a very safe place to study - a factor students identified as their top priority.

Britain was ranked as "good" or "very good" for personal safety by 96 per cent of respondents, even with Canada and Australia and better than the US, which was ranked ninth of 18 countries at 86 per cent.

Another student priority is the reputation of qualifications. The US tops this category, with 99 per cent rating it "good" or "very good", but the UK was a close second, with 97 per cent. Canada, Germany and France all scored 95 per cent.

The UK and US were ranked equally as the most expensive places to study, but respondents believed it was easier to get a student visa for the UK than for the US. The UK scored badly in graduate employment opportunities, with students believing it was the hardest country in which to get a job.

The report concludes: "It appears that the UK is beginning to challenge the supremacy of the US in terms of popularity among prospective students. However, this might simply be a sign that the US is losing more ground than the UK to emerging smaller competitors, who are collectively increasing their share of the international student intake."

It also says Britain should see the US as its main competitor, and resist the temptation to pursue the "mass market" if it wishes to maintain its reputation for quality.

It adds: "It is also important to note that two thirds of students choose an institution rather than a country first. The reputation and marketing efforts of individual institutions are therefore very significant factors in the market."

Pat Killingley, the British Council's director of higher education UK, said: "This survey reinforces the UK as a leader in higher education, but fierce competition from the US and Australia shows how essential the industry is on the global stage."

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