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In IDP’s latest Emerging Futures research conducted in February and March 2024, 58% of international students stated they had changed their mind about their preferred study destination at least once, and the top reason for this was the cost of living in the destination. The USA and UK were perceived as having the highest cost of living for higher education study, with perceptions of cost being notably higher than in Canada and Australia.

Recent government policy announcements within the UK, Canada and Australia have created negative sentiment toward studying in these countries, leading to declining demand (evidenced in IDP's destination demand data) particularly for the UK and Canada, whilst the US has benefitted. Now, more than ever, there is pressure on institutions to ensure they are pricing courses competitively, not only to compete against other domestic institutions but also international competition.

The IDP IQ team has taken a closer look at how international tuition fees differ by destination and the potential risk of continuing to increase international fees.

Average fees by destination

Caution should be taken when making high-level comparisons across destination markets. The type of institutions and programme structures and duration differ by market which naturally impacts the overall averages. It should also be noted that average per-year fees do not take into account other factors that impact affordability, such as the availability of scholarships in each destination. However, average per-year tuition fees still serve to provide a strong indicator of the affordability of each destination country.

Source: IQ Pricing, March 2024 

For benchmarking purposes within the US market, average fees are based on a sample of just over 250 institutions, primarily including state universities. The average undergraduate per-year fee in the US is higher than that of UK institutions, validating the perceptions reported in IDP’s Emerging Futures survey that the US is the most expensive destination market. Canada has the lowest average undergraduate per-year fees.

However, at postgraduate level, the UK is now the most expensive destination based on average tuition fees. Within the UK, the current freeze on undergraduate fees has led UK universities to become increasingly reliant on postgraduate fee income. However, we may now be reaching a tipping point whereby institutions risk pushing demand away with further increases in tuition fees.

Socio-political tensions between India and Canada earlier in the academic year, followed by the recent announcement of international student study permit caps in this market, have created uncertainty for students and a fall in demand to study in Canada. Prior to this, Canada was the preferred first-choice destination market (as shown in Emerging Futures 1-4) for international students and the significantly lower per-year postgraduate average tuition fees in this market will undoubtedly continue to secure demand.

There are further interesting observations to be made when analysing the differences by institution grouping and ranking.

Source: IQ Pricing, March 2024 

In all markets as of March 2024, the average fees are significantly higher for the top 200 ranked institutions (THE). This is most notable in the US, with fees £12.5k ($15.7k) higher than the sector average based on data held at IDP.

What are the implications?

Recent 2023/24 IDP student placement data shows growth in market share for non-Russell Group institutions in the UK, indicating that price, amongst other factors, is increasingly influencing student decision-making.

The highest-ranked institutions, particularly within the UK, have largely relied on China as a key source of recruitment where students are generally willing to pay more for entry at a high-ranking institution. However, as growth in this market has slowed and there is a greater need for diversification, pricing strategy is increasingly important, particularly within the current policy environment.

Within Australia, it is interesting to note that the Group of Eight average fees are approximately GBP 6k lower than the UK Russell Group at postgraduate level which may be a notable factor in the growing market share Australia has seen in the recent post-Covid era.

In Canada, the key question is whether some institutions are leaving cash on the table. Of course, this can only be answered by taking a closer look at program fees and distinguishing between master’s and the highly popular Graduate Diplomas in Canada, as well as understanding an institution’s target source markets, competitor positioning and the appeal of an institution’s value proposition including ranking. Flexibility in internal fee structures is of equal importance, as is the ability to set fees appropriate to the elasticity of demand for a given subject area or qualification type.

We must not ignore the key role that scholarship strategies play and availability of hardship funds. Understanding the intricacies of different source markets is essential, particularly in markets where students rely heavily on government-sponsored scholarships, including consideration of such things as aligning deposit deadlines with government-sponsored scholarship awarding dates.

IDP is uniquely positioned to provide benchmarking fee and scholarship data by destination market, institution, and sub-discipline. In addition, IDP conducts ongoing surveys to measure price sensitivity by market and has in-market counsellors to provide recommendations on pricing and scholarship strategy.

Contact us for more information on how IDP can support your institution with domestic and international fee setting.

Simon Hume
Simon Hume10 June 2024