US International Higher Education

Early Signs that TEF Rankings are Impacting on International Student Behaviour

Analysis of Hotcourses Group Insights data shows that the new TEF rankings are having little notable impact on the entrenched hierarchies and reputations of UK universities amongst domestic students. However, in many key overseas markets it appears that the TEF is driving increasing levels of interest in Gold ranked universities. Aaron Porter, Hotcourses Group Director of Insights investigates.


The introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) in June 2017 has arguably heralded the biggest shake up in the learning and teaching environment for years.


The debate still rages as to whether the metrics and method which underpin TEF are a fair means to assess and then rate teaching excellence, but whether a fan or a critic of the TEF it looks like it is here to stay in some guise or another.


So what impact might TEF be having?



So far, the impact of the TEF on prospective domestic students looks relatively muted. Patterns in the application and enrolment for UK based students is subject to a number of trends including subject demand, league table performance, marketing efforts of individual universities and increasingly graduate earnings data (including LEO and DLHE). When crunching this data, whether it’s UCAS applicant data or our own data on prospective student searches, it seems too early to discern any noticeable shift in demand on the basis of TEF alone (shifts which can’t be explained by some of the other, more significant influencers on applicant behaviour and student research).



Interestingly we are beginning to see some striking early movements in the pattern of student research amongst international students.


Between July – September 2016 (before TEF), TEF Gold institutions accounted for 19.1% of all global searches looking at the UK. In the same time period for 2017, following the introduction of the TEF medals, Gold institutions accounted for 24.5% of all searches to the UK. A much higher proportion than would have been expected.


Indeed, the country differences make for particularly interesting analysis. For students who are researching UK universities from India, Thailand, Turkey and Brazil there are particularly noticeable increases in interest for TEF Gold institutions. For prospective students from India looking at the UK, TEF Gold institutions have increased their share of searches from 23.7% to 36.9%, from a country who we know to be particularly sensitive to reputational signals and information.


The importance of observing these trends amongst students who are researching is particularly valuable as it presents an early indication of shifts in applicant behaviour several months before they land in institutions. For some this will provide the incentive to further capitalise on what looks like a promising position, and for others they may need to look at further diversification in order to sure up numbers.


So whilst TEF may not disrupt the UK domestic market, it could have a bigger impact on international students looking at our universities.












ALL COUNTRIES Jul-Sep 16   Jun-Sep 17  
All UK 587,208   645,543  
Gold 112,180 19.1% 158,117 24.5%
Bronze 53,214 9.1% 68,236 10.6%
All UK 41,044   73,294  
Gold 9,736 23.7% 27,009 36.9%
Bronze 5,305 12.9% 8,072 11.0%
All UK 59,703   74,309  
Gold 16,735 27.4% 19,475 26.2%
Bronze 4,449 7.5% 8,272 11.1%
All UK 105,004   112,644  
Gold 10,913 10.4% 16,147 14.3%
Bronze 3,993 3.8% 5,805 5.2%
All UK 24,417   43,738  
Gold 6,312 25.9% 10,837 24.8%
Bronze 3,669 15.0% 7,334 16.8%

* traffic across all Hotcourses Group international websites.

To hear more about the latest real-time data on international student demand join our conference the International Student Recruitment Forum 2017: Global trends, new models &
using data to stay ahead of the curve on Wednesday 22 November, Holborn Bars, London. Contact for more information.

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