From education to employment

UK universities global appeal clear from UCAS’ most detailed international analysis ever

Clare Marchant, UCAS' Chief Executive

International students are nearly twice as likely to apply to at least one university or college in London compared to those applying from the UK.

Insight from UCAS’ 2019 International Insights report shows 54.1% of applicants from outside the UK used one of their five undergraduate application choices for a course based in London last year, compared to 27.8% of UK applicants.

Several countries in Africa have been identified as emerging markets for UK universities and colleges. The number of students applying from Ghana grew by 25.5% (to reach 520 applicants) in 2019, South African applicants rose by 17.1% (to 685), and applicants from Egypt grew by 8.1% (to 860). Applicant numbers from Nigeria have risen by 10.8% to 1,870, following a fall of 40.9% between 2010 and 2018.

Saudi Arabia (a 10.3% increase to reach 1,390 applicants) and Kuwait (up 26.9%, to 1,280) in the Middle East, and Thailand (up 7.6%, to 10,035, exceeding 1,000 for the first time) and Taiwan (up 11.6% to 540) in South East Asia have also all seen significant increases in applicants.

Nearly three quarters (72.8%) of international students applied to a higher tariff UK university, in contrast to fewer than half (49.2%) of UK applicants, which also partly explains why international applicants are more likely to apply by the 15 October deadline. 63.2% of EU applicants applied to a higher tariff provider, compared to 78.6% for those outside the EU.

 Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subject groups generally have above average proportions of international applicants. 34.2% of applicants for mathematical sciences are from outside the UK, compared to only 5.2% of applicants for courses in education.

In 2019, the total number of international applicants increased by 5.2% to reach a record 140,955. Acceptances increased by 3.8% to a new high of 76,905.

International applicants chose their subjects based on what they enjoy the most (EU – 78%, non-EU – 71%) and what will give them good career prospects (EU – 57%, non-EU – 61%), which are similar drivers for UK applicants.

 When choosing a university, the quality of teaching ranks highest among the factors considered by international students, followed by the quality of teaching facilities, and entry requirements. Online student reviews and prospectuses were the two most important resources for students while researching their options.

Availability and quality of university accommodation, the cost of living at the university, and the social life available through attending the university are cited as key lifestyle factors.

 The report also focuses on specific trends for applicants from China and India, the two countries outside the UK with the most applicants through UCAS.

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said:

‘Campuses and communities across the country benefit enormously from both the academic and cultural contributions of students choosing the UK to pursue their studies. Our most detailed insight ever into international students’ choices further proves the high regard our higher education sector is held in around the world.

‘While the draw of studying in the capital is clear, our analysis of emerging markets and students’ subject preferences will be invaluable to universities across the country in planning their teaching and recruitment activities.

‘Online resources are crucial for international students in making their choices. UCAS is making it easier for them to find out relevant information, as we’ve recently integrated both Unibuddy  – digitally connecting applicants to current students at universities and colleges across the UK – and key content from Which University?  into, to help make informed decisions.’

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