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New research reveals that Australia and Canada are now equally popular among students due to changing perceptions of employment opportunities and post-study work rights.

The Emerging Futures 4 survey, conducted by international education specialists IDP Education in August 2023, reveals that student perceptions of individual destination countries are continuing to change, influencing their study choices. As a result of these evolving perceptions, Australia has experienced a two per cent increase in students selecting it as their first-choice destination, putting it on par with Canada, which saw a two per cent decline since the previous Emerging Futures survey in March 2023.

Australia saw increases in perceptions of several important factors, including ‘graduate employment opportunities’ and ‘post-study work policies’. Australia also stood out as the only country among the top four study destinations to see an increase in relation to the ‘welfare of international students’ and ‘quality of education’. The percentage of students who selected ‘safety for international students’ as a reason for choosing Australia as a first-choice destination also increased.

While Australia joined Canada as the first-choice destination among students, the UK saw a four per cent increase in students choosing it as their first-choice destination since March 2023, moving it into third position. The USA experienced a two per cent decrease, bringing it to fourth position among English-speaking destination countries.

The research, which collates the views of more than 10,000 prospective and current international students, shows that current students studying in the USA are the most satisfied, rating their experience at 7.8 out of 10, despite being perceived as the most expensive destination country.

Simon Emmett, IDP Connect Chief Executive Officer, said changes in perceptions and factors that students consider in their decision making show the top-four destinations should not rely on previous positive sentiment and high rankings.

“Policy changes, dynamic shifts within institutions and global economic conditions all have the power to affect a destination’s standings. Global competition between destination countries for international students remains high, and the impact of perceptions of post-graduation opportunities, or lack of opportunities, continues to impact student choice,” Mr Emmett said. “IDP will continue to work with policy makers and the higher education sector to ensure students’ voices are heard so we can continue to provide them with quality international education experiences.”

In a new addition to the survey, IDP asked students about their thoughts on artificial intelligence (AI), relating to their own use of the technology in their international education process and decision making, and how it might be used by institutions.

Students were asked if they had used or intended to use AI, including ChatGPT, to help write university applications. Of the global cohort, 39 per cent said, ‘Yes’. Notably, students from China were most inclined to use AI for this purpose, with 73 per cent responding ‘Yes’. Globally, 45 per cent of students indicated they would use AI to help them decide which institution to study at, while 47 per cent were open to using it to decide which course to study.

Students also rated ‘making the application’ and ‘shortlisting suitable institutions’ as the top two phases at which they would most want human input and advice from a trained counsellor, followed closely by ‘confirming my final choice of institution’. Tennealle O’Shannessy, Chief Executive Officer, IDP said: "With AI becoming more accessible to us in our everyday lives, it is crucial to understand how students are engaging with different types of technology during their international education journey.

“Our research shows that students want human interaction and trusted advice during the process, especially during the application phase. By putting AI technology in the hands of our expert counsellors, IDP is continuing to enhance human connections in a way that meets students’ needs. Combining AI with skilled human interaction allows us to provide students with comprehensive information to assist them in making the best possible choices when they need it most.”

Less than half of students globally (41 per cent) expected that institutions they are applying to would use AI to assess all or part of their application. While 35 per cent said that the use of AI in determining an applicant’s suitability for a course could make the process fairer for all, 31 per cent said it may discriminate against certain students. Overall, the most important factor for students when making an application to an institution was that they receive a decision quickly.

“The use of AI and data science to improve processes in higher education is developing very quickly. It is a very exciting time in the sector, and these advancements will enable the industry to enhance the experience for international students,” Ms O’Shannessy added.

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Simon Emmett
Simon Emmett11 October 2023