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UK universities’ popularity waning among international students: study

UK universities
UK universities have among the highest tuition fees among English speaking countries. Source: Tolga Akmen/AFP

Are UK universities losing their lustre among international students? A new study by Universities UK International found that while the UK was still ranked the second most popular study destination globally in 2018, its position has become vulnerable. The UK only has a small lead on Australia, which ranked third, and it lost market share in 16 out of the 21 top sending countries and territories between 2010 and 2018. 

They add that a shift towards increased regional student mobility has given rise to new players across Europe, especially Germany, the Netherlands and Poland, but also in Asia, such as Malaysia and Japan.

The new report — “International Student Recruitment: Why Aren’t We Second” — jointly produced by Universities UK International (UUKi) and IDP Connect — examines why the UK is underperforming in selected countries and how it can become a more attractive study destination for international students. UUKi is a body that represents higher education abroad.

While the UK universities provide an attractive environment for international students, the UK is comparatively more expensive in terms of tuition fees, student visa fees and health surcharges.

Compared to other national study campaigns, they note that the Study UK campaign does not provide detailed and prominent information on the different UK nations or offer a scholarship search tool. “Additionally, the UK’s Graduate route offers slightly fewer benefits in terms of length of stay or routes to permanent residency compared to other English-speaking study destinations,” it says.

UK universities

International students take into consideration cost effectiveness, return on investment and career options when choosing a study destination abroad. Source: Tolga Akmen/AFP

How UK universities compare as a study abroad destination

International students take into consideration cost-effectiveness, return on investment and career options when choosing a study destination abroad. The factors that influence their decision the most include affordability – especially scholarship availability, post-study work opportunities, welcome and safety, and quality of education, said the analysis. Each factor’s magnitude, however, varies from country to country. 

IDP Connect found that students and parents, when considering studying at UK universities alongside the US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, ranked the UK fourth — just before the US — in terms of affordability.

Student visas are important considerations for international students. The report notes that Canada, France and Malaysia offer faster and streamlined visa processes to selected nationalities. The UK, however, stands out, with its student visa being the most expensive, although it is closely followed by Australia. In addition, the UK’s immigration health surcharge is comparatively more expensive than health cover in Australia or France.

Tuition fees at UK universities are also a major consideration. The US and the UK are most expensive in terms of tuition fees for English-speaking countries. China and France offer significantly cheaper programmes, while fees in Germany are almost negligible. When comparing cost of living, Japan, Australia and France lead the list, while China and Malaysia are the cheapest study abroad destinations.