It’s well over a week since the UK government announced a new International Education Strategy to grow the numbers of international students coming to study Higher Education in the UK. A rare and welcome good news story for the Higher Education sector in the context of continued uncertainty surrounding the Augar review and that other thing that seems to be in the news a lot at the moment.
We therefore thought we’d take a look and see how the news has been received by prospective students around the world and whether it had any discernible impact on their study destination preferences. Is the UK more popular as a result of the announcement?
Looking at real-time data
We can use the millions of online, global student searches across our sites to track real-time trends in demand for higher education in different ‘destination’ markets. Trump’s Travel Ban, for example, led to significant shifts in the search behaviour of students from the Middle East, with reductions in searches for US institutions, mainly to the benefit of their Canadian neighbours.
Going further back to the months following the referendum vote; the UK Government’s announcement that future undergraduate students would continue to have access to the same financial support for at least another year had a positive impact – increasing searches from the EU to study in the UK. So, presidential and government level rhetoric, policy and legislation can, and does, impact student choice and can be seen in real-time, using our tool.
Impact on searches
So, back to last weekend’s announcement, has it had an impact? The simple answer is…No. Admittedly these are early indications, very early, but they do seem to show pretty much zero change. Firstly we looked at the week following the announcement and compared it to the same week last year – the percentage of people globally searching for UK study options went from 16.8% of searches to 16.7%. We then compared the week after the announcement to the week preceding the announcement, and got pretty much the same results (16.7% vs 16.74%).
Underwhelming to say the least and a bit disappointing but I still think there are things we can learn from this and things that we can debate. Has the strategy gone far enough to actually have any impact on how prospective students perceive the UK? Or has it been greeted with a shrug of the shoulders and a glance over at our competitors who continue to offer more attractive post study work options? Perhaps, but it could also be that no one outside of the sector really heard or noticed the announcement. We therefore must find ways and means of working together with government and sector bodies to amplify these positive stories and ensure that students see and hear positive shifts in policy, and more importantly, positive stories and testimonials about the amazing experiences and outcomes of studying in the UK.
Erik Lithander, Pro Vice-Chancellor Global Engagement at the University of Bristol says: “The UK is only just waking up to the fact that international Higher Education, like all other export industries, requires concerted government support and policy coordination. Countries like Australia and New Zealand figured that out decades ago, and we are only just putting it down in writing in the new International Education Strategy.”
Sharing the benefits of a UK education
At IDP Connect we collect tens of thousands of student reviews annually and publish them on Whatuni for the benefit of future UK-based students. We understand the power and importance of this user-generated content. So, this year we’ll be looking at how we can gather and publish international student content that promotes the truly life-changing value of UK higher education to all students; home and international. We know that this will go some way to supporting the sector in continuing to build a positive narrative.
We therefore welcome all initiatives that strengthen our industry and enhance the experience for our students who choose a UK education and we look forward to collaborating with our institution partners, sector bodies and the government to realise the ambitious targets and welcome increasing numbers of students to the UK. Together with our UK and international advisory panels, we work to shape future plans and strategies aimed at supporting the sector.
For more on how international policy impacts international student demand, read our latest report compiled with Universities UK International.