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New QS report calls on universities to tailor their student recruitment strategies for priority overseas markets

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UK universities should adopt a tailored approach to recruiting students from different target markets to sustain the success of the UK’s International Education Strategy (IES), according to a new report from QS Quacquarelli Symonds, the world’s leading provider of services, analytics and insights to the global higher education (HE) sector.

The 2022 International Student Survey (ISS) from QS recommends that institutions tailor their recruitment strategies by providing insights on the priorities, concerns and needs of prospective students situated in a set of diverse key markets identified by the Government in the IES including China, India, Vietnam, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. 

The report found:

  • For prospective students from China and Saudi Arabia safety was cited as the biggest concern about studying overseas, meanwhile candidates from India, Vietnam and Nigeria listed the cost of living as their top concern.
  • For students from China, India and Saudi Arabia the most important priority when choosing a university was the offer of high-quality teaching, for students from Nigeria it was a welcoming study destination and for Vietnamese students it was the offer of a scholarship.

Data published by QS in the ISS draws on responses from over 110,000 prospective international students from 194 counties and territories around the world – over 63,000 of whom said they were interested in studying in the UK. Now in its tenth year, the ISS is the world’s largest survey of pre-enrolled international students. 

Other recommendations in this year’s report include calling on the Government to bring the UK’s post-study work rights in line with its competitors by raising the threshold of the post-study work visa from 2 to 3 years. Given the net economic benefit of international students in the UK was recently estimated at nearly £26bn, it underscores the potential impact this move could have on economic growth. It would follow the success of extending the post-study work visa from 4 months to 2 years in 2019 which helped the sector achieve its target of recruiting more than 600,000 international students nearly a decade early. 

The report also includes recommendations for institutions on environmental and social responsibilities, hybrid learning and multiple intakes of university courses. 

Key findings from the ISS include:  

  • Nearly two-thirds (59%) of candidates said they would be more likely to consider the UK as a study destination if it enhanced post-study work rights to allow graduates to remain for up to three years.
  • Less than a fifth (16%) of candidates looking to study in the UK plan on remaining beyond 3 years after they graduate.
  • Over four-fifths (81%) of international students feel that the higher education sector is environmentally friendly, however a similar percentage (80%) also feel that institutions could do more to help the environment. 
  • Nearly a fifth (19%) of UK-bound candidates would be uncomfortable coming forward and asking a university for help and support with their mental health. 
  • Over three-quarters (78%) of prospective international students expect most of their teaching to be conducted in a face-to-face environment when they begin their studies.
  • Nearly half (47%) of prospective students would be interested in a hybrid learning experience, combining virtual and in-person studying. 
  • Almost a third (30%) of candidates applying to a course with multiple intakes claim they were an important factor in their decision-making.
  • Over half (57%) of international students surveyed feel that the presence of multiple intakes on a course makes it seem like the university is trying to make it easier for students to enrol.

Speaking about this year’s report, Founder and Chief Executive Officer at QS, Nunzio Quacquarelli said: 

“Now in its tenth year, the ISS continues to provide the sector with data-led research that shines a light on the priorities and perceptions of students. As a sector we have faced unprecedented challenges over the last two years due to the pandemic and QS has played a vital role throughout providing insights enabling the UK to adapt to the shifting dynamics in the international student market.

“This year’s report looks closely at the UK’s IES and how institutions can reduce the risk of becoming over-reliant on any single market for their international recruitment by tailoring their strategies for specific geographies. By adopting this tailored approach it can help sustain the success of the IES having reached its target of 600,000 students by recruiting from an increasingly diverse range of markets.

“As we prepare for next year’s intake of admissions, we look forward to continuing to support the sector by harnessing the latest data to understand the demands of international students and promote inclusive growth.”

Vivienne Stern MBE, Director at Universities UK International and author of the ISS foreword said:

“This year’s Survey shows that we as a sector can do more to attract students from those source countries outside of the EU. We need to recognise and address the barriers that international students who plan to study in the UK face – ranging from delays in processing their study visa, to restrictions on international travel in their home country. It is vital that the UK Higher Education sector continues to appreciate the diverse nature of each year’s international student intake, working to cater for the individual needs of each prospective student.

“Another of the key themes in this year’s report is the growing expectation from students for institutions to go further in terms of their environmental and social responsibilities. At Universities UK  International, we have been putting more emphasis on helping universities navigate the links between their carbon reduction goals, and their international ambitions. It is clear there is much work to do.”

To download QS’ International Student Survey 2022, click here.

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