National research agency Explain Market Research has begun a study with international students that has revealed that cultural experience and the calibre of qualifications available are thought to be key reasons for international students choosing to study at a UK university. Oh, and before they arrive they think the UK is always sunny…
The research, carried out in spring 2018, has uncovered insight into where UK universities could more effectively engage with international students to improve conversion and present a more attractive offering.
During the qualitative research, international students currently studying at British universities were asked to discuss the application process and how universities can better attract and prepare overseas students to study in the UK.
When asked if Brexit would have an impact on their decision to study in the UK, there was agreement that had the Brexit vote happened before or during their application it would have had a direct impact on their decision to study in the UK. The rise in tuition fees and impact on scholarships being the area of most concern.
The research indicated that the majority of international students undertook some level of research before making a decision. However, this relied heavily on recommendations and information given to them by their home school. Tuition fees and scholarships naturally prove to be a key consideration however weather was also a consideration. None of the students who took part in the research had visited the UK before applying and the tendency of marketing literature to show universities under blue skies and bright sunshine was often misleading, negatively affecting their experience of their chosen city after they arrived.
League tables and online reviews
While some students felt some pressure from their parents to study in a certain geographical area, league tables and university websites came out on top when it came to choosing which university to select.
Within discussions, the application process proved to be the area which required the most improvement. All applications were carried out online or electronically with no human interaction with universities in the UK. International agents were relied on heavily to support the application process and students stated that there was confusion around submitting their home country grades as opposed the UK A-Level system.
Early themes from the research highlight distinct areas where universities can make changes to support the decision making, knowledge finding and application process for international students. Carrying out in depth research and analysis to provide meaningful insights on the student decision making journey would allow universities to stream-line processes and invest in the most impactful areas of their international student recruitment strategies.