Study finds that university rankings don't really matter to international students
Other factors take precedence over rankings when it comes to choosing where to study abroad. Source: Shutterstock

University and programme rankings are supposedly the best way to find out whether a particular course or institution is right for you.

However, a study by has found that international students consider other aspects when deciding which university to attend.

According to the report, titled International Higher Education Report: Student Trends, “The rankings and reputation of the school is dropping in importance for prospective students, with teaching quality and cost of living valued respectively 45% and 118% more highly than by current students.”

The report was divided into student trends from different regions such as Northern America, Western Europe, Northern Europe and Southeast Asia, but this particular trend was a common factor when surveying international students all over the world.

The report encouraged universities to include details on living costs, teaching quality and campus life in marketing materials, as they are the most desirable features for international students when evaluating a prospective study abroad institution.

Aside from looking at the university faculty and living costs in a particular area, prospective students also heavily rely on peer testimonials, the study has found.

“Students are 33% more likely to value a university’s student reviews and are keener than ever to choose their university based on the unique opportunities the campus offers.”

The opportunity to work in a particular country after graduation is also a major factor for international students in Northern Europe when deciding where to study.

Students from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia “are becoming more interested in career services during their international studies as well as opportunities for work visas after graduation”, notes the report.

For learners from Western Europe, i.e the United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Monaco and the Netherlands, the chance to experience a new culture was found to be the most impactful driver behind their decision.

The report suggested that recruiters should “play up the unique opportunities your university offers for international students to immerse themselves in the local culture” when targeting students from these regions.

Tuition costs remain the top factor for American students planning to study abroad. As the report states, “Tuition cost is the number one factor that North American students take into consideration – even over choosing a subject they are deeply passionate about and interested in.”

Compared to previous reports, the reputation of a particular programme as a consideration factor has also significantly increased.

Southeast Asian students also demonstrate increasing focus on teaching quality and cost of living as well as campus facilities.

Other common factors have dropped out of the decision-making process for prospective students from this region, such as the number of programmes offered, recommendations from family and friends and the school’s location.

“Only 14% of prospective Southeast Asian students consider [programme] rankings an important factor, while an increasing number are concerned about fitting [programme] requirements with 40% of students saying that entry requirements are a very important factor.”

These students are looking at more practical factors rather than rankings, such as a continued trend towards career focus, funded studies like scholarships and loans, and opportunities to work in their country of study after graduation.

Southeast Asian students are also concerned about how a country treats international students, as it was found that the friendliness and openness of a country’s culture towards them is a major factor when deciding where to study.

Additionally, the report found that “a country’s reputation for a high standard of education is also growing with a decreasing focus on the primary spoken language of the country.”

Universities would be wise to take note of these student trends, highlighting these factors on their websites and in other marketing materials, instead of relying on rankings, to attract international students.

In speaking to The Pie News, Josh Hopton-Stewart, site manager of, said, “Students are more and more empowered digitally to assess quality independent of ranking bodies and take a more tailored focus to what education will be best for them.

“Our advice would be to not rest on your laurels and find other trust touch-points – such as student reviews and student ambassadors – to make sure that you’re establishing trust on the basis that students are actually assessing that trust.”

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