King's College, Cambridge University. Source: Shutterstock

New research from the UK Higher Education International Unit has found that overseas students choosing to study in the country enjoy a much higher rate of satisfaction than those who study with the UK’s main competitors.

According to the report, titled International Undergraduate Students: The UK’s Competitive Advantage;  85 percent of international undergraduates would recommend their UK study experience to fellow prospective students, meaning that in terms of undergraduate education, a higher proportion of international students would recommend the UK than any of its major English-speaking rival destinations.

The report forms part of a series commissioned to examine the UK’s market position with respect to international student recruitment and the international student experience.

ISB survey data – overall measures of UG satisfaction across key competitors, 2013 – 14 via UK Higher Education International Unit

Findings are based on data from i-graduate’s International Student Barometer (ISB), an independent survey completed by 800 higher education providers across the world, including more than 100 UK universities. In total, the report draws on feedback from 365,754 international students studying outside of their home country.

The study found rates of international student satisfaction within the UK to be particularly high at 91 percent, up from 90 percent back in 2008, with the country’s HE institutions seeing improvements across 75 of the 84 ranked categories.

The UK achieved the highest satisfaction ratings among competitors for every aspect of the international student experience: overall satisfaction (91%), arrival (90%), learning (88%), living (87%) and available support services (90%).

ISB survey data – overall measures of UG satisfaction across key competitors, 2013 – 14 via UK Higher Education International Unit

Professor Sir Steve Smith, Vice Chancellor of the University of Exeter told The PIE News, “Reputation matters, but what matters most is how our international students rate us. This survey gives a definitive answer to this question.”

Since 2007, the number of non-EU international undergraduate students choosing to study in the UK has grown by 46 percent, reflecting the country’s prevalent reputation as a top global provider of undergraduate education.

In comparison to its rivals, the UK also had higher rates of satisfaction in terms of cost of living, despite the region’s actual market share of international students remaining fairly static. On the other side of the scale, international competitors like the USA and Canada have seen substantial growth in foreign student numbers and market share, and researchers claim the UK’s current visa policies are having a negative impact on the country’s HE sector.

ISB survey data – UG cost-of-living satisfaction trends across key competitors, 2008 – 14 via UK Higher Education International Unit

UK HE International unit Director, Vivienne Stern, commended UK universities’ “hard work to continuously improve the student experience,” but noted that other countries are doing much more to boost international appeal which has resulted in much faster growth.

“The UK must jointly capitalise on its obvious strengths in order to drive sustained growth for this critical component of the UK’s higher education system and its broader economy,” she added.

The study also uncovered a decline in the perceived attractiveness of the UK as a study location among education partners and advisers across the globe, while countries like the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have experienced the opposite.

Agent Barometer survey data – best destination for undergraduate study 2015 via UK Higher Education International Unit

“Noting the significance of the part played by agents and advisers in student-decision making, it would appear the UK has more to gain, if more in this key group of influencers can be swayed,” the report states.

“More competitive policies around student visas and work rights would have an immediate impact on the attractiveness of the UK to professional advisers. And with or without any policy change, there should be more proactive and coordinated engagement with these gatekeepers for international education.”

Image via Shutterstock.

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