Choosing from a list of 19 influencing factors, students flagged issues of academic quality as their top priority when picking a study destination – a continuing norm. However, the report found safety concerns over all destinations in the survey had risen over the last five years.
For example, those considering Australia rated it 17th most influential factor in 2007, eighth in 2009, fourth in 2011 and seventh in 2012. For Canada, often touted for its safeness, safety was considered 17th most important factor in 2007 but has risen to fifth.
Similarly high rises were seen in New Zealand, the UK and the US, as well as in emerging study destinations such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Malaysia and China.
“Increasingly, students are really concerned about safety and they are becoming a lot more selective about where they go, because of things like the 2010 violence against Indian students in Australia, the shooting of Anuj Bidve in the UK, and then what’s happened recently at the University of Southern California, and it resonates across all of their decision making,” said Elizabeth Shepherd, author of the report.
“The trend is linked to a broader tendency for students to stereotype study destinations”
The trend is linked to a broader tendency for students to stereotype study destinations, both positively and negatively, on “hearsay and imagined reputation”. Mass media is given much of the blame for the rise in safety concerns.
“The nature of globally broadcast and instantly accessible news will continue to influence the opinions of international students and their families, regardless of where they intend to study,” it states.
“This was extremely evident during our focus group discussions, where a number of respondents were aware of incidents in which international students had been endangered or hurt, but could not remember when or in which country this had taken place.”
However, Shepherd said that more could be done to help students new to countries. “I think institutions have to educate their domestic student population to really help international students integrate.”
“I think institutions have to educate their domestic student population”
The study will confirm educators’ worst fears about the power of negative publicity of violence towards international students. However it also finds that factors such as policy on international education can have a “massively” favourable impact on student perception. New Zealand’s Skilled Migrant visa category, which allows specific groups of students to apply for permanent residency after studying in the country is used as an example.
“The strength of this factor makes it the defining feature of a destination and all elements of a student’s expectations can subsequently be traced back to it,” states the report.