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UK universities in demand from overseas students

UK universities in demand from overseas students

Globally, every country is well aware of the excellence of the United Kingdom’s top universities such as Oxford and Cambridge.

But the strength in depth of UK universities runs much deeper than just the renowned Oxbridge colleges. The demand for UK education by overseas students is set to rise over the next four years, despite increased global competition, according to a new series of reports from the British Council.

UK universities are likely to maintain their competitive edge as other countries seek to enlarge their international student intakes. The university “brands” are regarded as more prestigious and are better known that those in Australia and all but the top Ivy League institutions in the United States.

The latest research focuses on student movement between the UK, US, Nigeria, China, India and Malaysia. The report – called: Students in motion: the outlook for international student mobility to the UK – predicted a growth to the UK from 2011 to 2015 of:

Indian students by 18 per cent;
Chinese students by 9 per cent;
Nigerian students by 5 per cent;
Malaysian students by 4 per cent;

US students by 3 per cent.

The British Council research is based on a robust econometric model to establish the primary determinants driving the international students’ choice of destination for study.

Decelerated economic growth in the countries sending students to study abroad will affect growth in domestic enrolments in higher education and it will also affect families’ disposable income. Bilateral trade was found to be significant across all countries studied in the research (the US, Nigeria, China, India and Malaysia).

It highlights the relevance of the host country to the domestic economy and it is a good proxy for geographical, historical and commercial relationship between two countries. Any increase in trade between the UK and the respective sending country leads to a greater numbers of students from the respective country choosing the UK as a study destination.

Non-economic, that is non-quantifiable factors, such as immigration restrictions and safety reputation were not part of this study, hence their influence was impossible to quantify. But evidence from Australia suggests that students from India in particular are sensitive to these factors. Commencement data on Indian students in Australian education in June 2010 was more than 50 per cent down compared with 2009.

Commenting on the reports, Dr Jo Beall, director of education and society for the British Council that commissioned the research, said: “In spite of the recent global economic uncertainty, higher education is seen almost universally as a key driver towards growth, and there is a huge demand for the opportunities a quality higher education can provide.

“International students at tertiary level enrolled worldwide has increased by 77 per cent since 2000. There are almost 3.7 million students enrolled outside their country of citizenship in 2009. What these reports have shown is that there will continue to be a demand for a British higher education, so it’s important that the UK can capitalise on our higher education sector to build stronger and long-lasting links with aspirational individuals and institutions overseas, for our mutual benefit,” she added.

Country-specific insights concluded that in China tuition fees play a more prominent role. This may be partly explained in that the exchange rate is managed and is not market set. If China were to liberalise its exchange rate, that is: allow the Chinese currency to appreciate, this would change the forecast. However, although UK living costs are perceived as high, the value for money and ease of entry to good quality courses is difficult for competitors to match.

In Malaysia the country’s universities are expanding but cannot meet demand. The UK is widely considered as the most prestigious destination for Malaysian students. The UK’s university brands are more highly regarded than Australia’s or even than most of those in the US. Australia is often seen as a money-saving destination. Most students interviewed said they believed that prospective employers would prefer UK degrees to Australian or US qualifications.

Employers tend to be more familiar with the names of UK universities than US ones. The UK is perceived as more multicultural and to have a broader global outlook than Australia or the US.

In India the number of students travelling to the UK for higher education over 2004-2010 increased exponentially – total growth over this period was 142 per cent. Demand for domestic higher education will continue to outstrip supply, says the report. The UK has been and will almost certainly remain highly regarded among Indians considering overseas study.

Other important social and psychological considerations are the perception that UK culture is relatively “immigrant friendly”, the quality of life in the UK is good, and that the UK and London in particular is an excellent place to launch an international career.

For India and Malaysia the exchange rate and cost of living in UK were found to be more significant than for students from other countries. Therefore, stipends provided against the cost of living would have greatest impact in these countries in terms of attracting prospective students.

In Nigeria significant challenges compromise the higher education sector’s ability to meet the government’s ambitious targets. The report reveals that more than 40 per cent of Nigerians passed domestic university entrance exams in 2010 but only 10 per cent could be accommodated.

The number of students in higher education in the UK grew by 115 per cent between 2004-10 and by 16 per cent between 2008-09. But demand is forecast to flatten from 2012-15, remaining at just under 17,000. This forecast took into account a fall in the value of Nigerian currency in relation to sterling.

In the US, economic pressures make a shorter length of study in the UK more attractive. Elite institutions are seen as less expensive in the UK than the US. But the UK was seen as weak from a value-for-money standpoint. This was partly due to the self-taught aspect of many of the courses.

The British Council authors suggest that key marketing points for UK education should be related to shorter time commitment required and European credentials gained. North Americans are increasingly open to study-abroad options but having to navigate loan and grant systems in the US and an increasingly restrictive UK visa system make the UK a challenging destination.

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. It creates international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and builds trust between them worldwide. It works in more than 100 countries in the arts, education and English and in 2010-11 it engaged face to face with 30m people and reached 578m.

The council has 6,800 staff worldwide and its total turnover in 2010-11 was 693m pounds, of which its grant-in-aid from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office was 190m pounds. The remainder was generated through trading activities such as English language teaching. For every pound of taxpayer money invested it earns 2.65 pounds in additional income.


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