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UK looks to enhance global position as study destination

A major new report makes a series of recommendations for cementing the UK’s global popularity as a study destination and achieving the UK government’s ambitions for international student number growth.

Globally the UK continues to be highly attractive for international students and remains the second most popular study destination behind the United States.

However, in 2018/19 the UK almost lost second place with competitor Australia hosting just 7600 fewer students than the UK, with Germany also rising rapidly in popularity, in fourth place.

The UK government’s target number of international students is at least 600,000 by 2030, as outlined in its  International Education Strategy .

A report, published today by Universities UK International (UUKi), with research by UUKi and IDP Connect ‘International student recruitment: Why aren’t we second (part 2)’, draws on in-depth research and focus group interviews with prospective students, alumni, and recruitment agents in eight recruitment markets in three categories: where the UK should maintain its position (Nigeria, Saudi Arabia), regain its standing (India, Pakistan) and develop its recruitment (Brazil, Indonesia, South Korea, Vietnam).

The analysis reveals that students consider cost effectiveness, return on investment and career options when choosing a study destination abroad. The factors influencing their decision most include affordability (especially scholarship availability), post-study work opportunities, welcome and safety, and the quality of education.

The report suggests there are various steps that the UK government and university sector could take to improve its attractiveness further, including:

1. Improve the promotion of the UK as a welcoming, diverse and accessible study destination.

2. Ensure the success of the Graduate route.

3. Reduce financial barriers for international students through the creation of more diverse and innovative funding opportunities.

4. Support the improvement of English language ability.

The UK’s current international education strategy includes a target of increasing the number of international students in the UK to at least 600,000 by 2030, up from its current level of around 550,000. 

Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International said:

“The UK is extremely fortunate to be such a popular destination for international students. Recent policy changes have made the UK a more attractive destination, after a long period where we lost ground to other countries. But as this research shows, we need to work hard to recover our position in a range of countries where the UK used to be a first or second-choice destination, but isn’t any more.”

Professor Dame Janet Beer, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool and Universities UK’s International Policy Lead, said:

“International students are vital to the cultural, economic, and social fabric of the UK. This report makes some important recommendations on how the UK can broaden its appeal and build its reputation as the world leading destination for international students. Universities will continue to work closely with government to remove barriers for international students and identify ways of diversifying recruitment to meet the ambitions set out in the international education strategy.”

Lord Karan Bilimoria President of CBI said:

“Being the third generation in my family to have been an international student in the UK, arriving here at the age of 19 and then starting my career and building Cobra Beer now a household name from scratch, I know the enormous value international students bring to our universities and our local communities. International students contribute over £26bn to the economy and are one of the UKs strongest elements of soft power, building generation long links with their countries.”

“The Graduate route presents a golden opportunity to help talented people from around the world to fulfil their potential in this country. Making it a success will help cement the UK’s position as the destination of choice for study abroad and give firms access to the diverse, innovative talent they need to thrive. It provides international students not only the ability to earn money to help pay for their education but gain valuable work experience and contribute to the UK economy – it is a win-win all round.”

Simon Emmett, CEO of IDP Connect said:

“The UK is well placed to continue to attract increasing numbers of international students to the UK. However, as this report highlights, students want to know what return they will gain from studying in the UK. As a sector we must therefore improve how we track and promote the positive outcomes that a UK education presents to students, helping guide students to make the right choices for their future”

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