QS research reveals international students' views on UK higher education post-Brexit
Students hold up a banner protesting the UK's decision to leave the EU. Source: Shutterstock

Universities must rise to the challenge presented by the changing dynamics in demand from international students, according to a new report from QS, a leading global higher education company providing university rankings and student recruitment, retention and international relations solutions.

The unique survey – the largest of its kind – spoke to over 75,000 prospective students globally from 191 different countries, 23,557 of whom were interested in studying in the UK. The report recommends that now is the time for the UK Government to work with the higher education sector to ensure that the immigration system post-Brexit is best prepared to grow global education.

The report, launched yesterday, titled Growing Global Education: Rising to the international recruitment challenge, is the seventh iteration of the annual International Student Survey (ISS) by QS.

International student recruitment strategies and solutions should be informed by the changing dynamics

Source: QS Enrolment Solutions

It’s crucial that universities look ahead to understand the impact on international student recruitment with new attitudes and dynamics emerging. According to QS’ Brexit Sensitivity Index as part of this year’s ISS:

  • Prospective students from across North Africa and the Middle East, in addition to those from many
    Commonwealth countries, are in general more likely to be interested in the prospect of studying in the UK because of Brexit. For more information, click here to view the full report.
  • Over a third (36 percent) of EU students claim to be less likely to study in the UK because of Brexit. This figure suggests that the number of EU students ‘at risk’ of choosing a different study destination than the UK is approximately 20,000. The potential loss of such a pool of students poses a significant financial threat to UK universities and would take the number of EU students in the UK down to their lowest levels for at least five years.

As new attitudes emerge, there is potential for UK universities to take advantage of heightened interest from international students deriving from certain regions post-Brexit.

Clearly communicating the post-Brexit fee structure could minimise the potential loss of EU students

This year’s research also found that EU students are concerned about the financial viability of the UK as a study destination upon the UK leaving the EU. The lack of any long-term agreement on the amount EU students would have to pay presents a significant barrier to easing financial concerns.

  • Only six out of 10 prospective EU students are aware that they will be eligible for student loans and tuition fees at the same rate as domestic students in the UK for courses starting in the 2019/2020 academic year.

Source: QS Enrolment Solutions

Communicating clearly the post-Brexit fee structure and any scholarships available for EU students could alleviate concerns about the financial viability of studying in the UK and support growth in student recruitment.

Paul Raybould, Director of Marketing & Market Intelligence at QS, said: “We at QS welcome the Government’s commitment to EU students starting university in the 2020/21 academic year, confirming that they will have guaranteed home fee status and financial support for the duration of their course.

“The financial viability of the UK as a study destination is a key concern of EU students dissuaded from studying in the UK due to Brexit. However, the lack of any long-term agreement on the amount that EU students will have to pay starting in the 2021/22 academic year presents a significant barrier to easing financial concerns for a large number of prospective students.

“Our insights from the International Student Survey…suggest that four in 10 prospective students from the EU were not aware that those starting in 2019/20 would qualify for home fee status. There is a strong need for the Government and the sector to communicate the post-Brexit fee structure for EU students clearly, in order to help to minimise the potential loss of EU students caused by Brexit.”

“The UK higher education sector is world-leading, rightfully celebrated for its teaching quality and the student experience that it can offer prospective international students. It is crucial that this continues and international students feel welcome and inspired to study in the UK. In the midst of Brexit uncertainty and a shifting policy agenda, UK universities must look ahead to understand the new dynamics and attitudes emerging to ensure the sector rises to the international recruitment challenge.”

Source: QS Enrolment Solutions

Extending the offer of the post-study leave period and highlighting graduate employability to support growth

Immigration policies present one way to grow international higher education exports through combatting negative perceptions surrounding Brexit, reinforcing the message that the UK is truly welcoming to international students.

  • Over three-quarters (77 percent) of respondents claim that an extension of the post-study leave period from four months to 12 months would make them more likely to consider studying in the UK. The value of such a group represents a potential £2.4bn to UK universities in first-year tuition fees alone.

The government’s recently announced International Education Strategy proposes that the post-study leave period for the UK’s visa offer for international undergraduate and Masters students should increase from four to six months. This research suggests that extending the post-study leave offer further could be an effective way of rising to the international export challenge. To realise the benefit of any policy changes, universities should communicate this opportunity to prospective students in their marketing materials.

Source: QS Enrolment Solutions

Furthermore, graduate outcomes and skills are a key consideration for prospective international students and choosing a course provides the first step towards a chosen career path.

  • The most important career considerations for prospective students are that they get international experience and have the opportunity to learn new skills.
  • Prospective students not only expect universities to have a high graduate employment rate, but also that they will be able to enter a career in their preferred industry and in a timely manner.

Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP, Chair of the Treasury Select Committee and Secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Students, said: “I welcome QS’ report which makes an important contribution to the discussion regarding how future immigration policy should reflect the importance of international students to our universities and economy.

“I am particularly supportive of its recommendation that the government extend its post-study leave period further than the six months it has proposed in the International Education Strategy. This, of course, complements the amendment to the Immigration Bill I co-signed, laid by the former Universities Minister, Jo Johnson, which would ensure that international students are able to work here for two years after graduation.”

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