US still top destination for international students, says report

Nearly two-thirds place US among top three study destinations. Separate survey says students are not deterred by Trump effect

December 1, 2016
Young man with American flag painted on face
Source: Getty
Popular choice: 58 per cent of international student users of Hotcourses Group websites still viewed the US positively as a study destination

The US remains the top destination for prospective international students, with nearly two-thirds of respondents placing it in their top three countries for undergraduate study, according to a new global survey.

The report, which was produced by the strategy consultancy Parthenon-EY and the educational listings company Hotcourses Group, showed that 64 per cent of respondents viewed the US as their preferred destination.

The 2016 Prospective International Student Survey gauged the opinion of more than 2,700 prospective students from 130 countries where recruitment agents are not widely used in the university application process.

Along with the US, the UK continued to show its desirability among international students, with more than half of undergraduate respondents putting it in their top three, while Australia was third, with 41 per cent. Just below them was Canada, with 37 per cent. The survey showed a sustained preference among applicants for study in anglophone countries.

“Findings from this report would suggest that there is a relative improvement in the position of Canada, [with] Australia firming its grip, that’s definitely happening,” Aaron Porter, Hotcourses director of insights told Times Higher Education.

“It’s also worth saying that this survey was done in the native language of these international students, so it makes the anglophone dimension that bit more powerful. If this was an English survey done on English websites, you’d expect an inherent bias.

He said that the UK should be able to capitalise on the desire for higher education in its mother tongue, but “perhaps it’s not doing as much, ironically, as Canada”.

The report reflects a separate Hotcourses Group survey, which asked whether the US was still a desirable place to study even after Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election.

It showed that 58 per cent of international student users of their sites still viewed the US positively as a study destination. However, Mr Trump’s election has had a negative effect in Middle Eastern countries, with only 5 per cent more likely to want to study in the US against 15 per cent who are less likely to want to study there.

“In the Middle East, there’s concern. His rhetoric about Muslims has been very uncomfortable and, of course, the Middle East has a high proportion of Muslim students looking to study,” Mr Porter said.

“For those dissuaded by the US, where were they most looking at next? The biggest beneficiary looks like Canada [which 38 per cent viewed as an alternative study destination]. There’s a feel-good factor about [prime minister Justin] Trudeau and them being open for business.”

International applicants still regard the global reputation of a university’s qualifications as their primary motivator for studying abroad, with 40 per cent and 43 per cent of undergraduate and postgraduate respondents, respectively, placing it in their top three reasons.

However, tuition cost was still a major factor for undergraduate applicants, with more than a third (39 per cent) saying it was a key driver.

This is perhaps linked to a new finding from the report, which showed the emergence of a segment of “online learners” who are less concerned with university rankings and more sensitive to tuition fees.

About 14 per cent of undergraduate respondents showed clear willing to study either an online or blended degree. Mr Porter said that for these, “cost and ease of provision” are much more important than “international recognition and reputation”.

UK statistics show 16% drop in those arriving to study

The number of people coming to the UK for more than 12 months to study fell by 16 per cent in the year to June 2016, latest figures from the country’s Office for National Statistics have shown.

There was also a “statistically significant” decrease in the number of European Union citizens arriving to study, from 47,000 to 34,000, during the same time frame, which mostly covered a period before the EU referendum was held. 

Overall, the ONS said, 163,000 people arrived in the UK to study in the year to June 2016, a fall from 193,000 in the year to June 2015. It was the lowest estimate in numbers arriving for this purpose since the year to December 2007.

Estimates from the UK’s International Passenger Survey show that 22 per cent of those arriving to study were EU citizens and 73 per cent were non-EU citizens (the remaining 6 per cent being British citizens).

One MP blasted the government over the figures and said that competitor nations would be “rubbing their hands with delight”.

Paul Blomfield, a Labour MP who is co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on International Students, added: “Policies from the inclusion of students in net migration targets to reducing post-study visa opportunities and now a chaotic Brexit have all contributed to making the UK less attractive to international students.

“If numbers continue to fall, we will lose thousands of jobs in towns and cities across the UK. Instead, we should be growing numbers and boosting local economies.”

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