UK’s popularity rises amongst international students

13 Oct 2023

The UK has risen in popularity amongst overseas students but needs to focus on a “broader set of reasons” why they should choose Britain to study, according to Education services company IDP. “It is also essential to protect current policies that are important to students, such as the graduate visa route,” according to Simon Emmett, chief executive of the company’s recruitment arm IDP Connect. This company polled around 10,000 current and prospective students in July and August and noticed a rise in the UK’s popularity. Indeed, Britain was named a first-choice destination by 22% of respondents, a rise from 18% in the prior survey conducted in February and March.

Number one choice

However, it was Australia that was named the top choice by 25% of students polled, a 2% rise on the March result. The country now sits alongside Canada at the top, which fell to 25% from 27%. IDP said Australia’s improvement was down to positive insights into graduate work opportunities and post-study work rights. “Policy changes, dynamic shifts within institutions and global economic conditions all have the power to affect a destination’s standing,” Emmett said. “The impact of perceptions of post-graduation opportunities, or lack of opportunities, continues to impact student choice.” However, these findings are in contrast to those from the Grattan Institute thinktank this month. Its report cautioned that Australia’s “generous” post-study work regime “gives false hope to thousands of graduates who will never gain permanent residency, adds to population pressures, and threatens Australia’s reputation as a destination for tertiary study”. However, students have not been deterred, as there were over 710,000 international students in Australia during the first half of this year, a rise from 685,000 in 2019 before the pandemic and around 470,000 last year. Growth, in particular, has stemmed from Colombia, the Philippines, India and Nepal this year.

Other factors

Although Australia has improved its ranking in terms of education quality, student welfare and safety, the UK’s popularity was based on a “narrower mix of factors.” Indeed, Britain is highly regarded for the quality of its education but came last for graduate employment and second to last for post-study work visas. According to IDP Connect’s director of partnerships, Rachel MacSween, universities in the UK had witnessed “huge” enrolment rises throughout the pandemic as other countries dealt with travel restrictions. “We knew the bounce back from the other major study destinations would be strong. Institutions in the UK and the wider sector need to rethink what destination marketing could look like, to get the UK back to being top choice for students,” she commented.