Higher education marketing firm Hobsons polled 5,500 students from more then 150 countries in March about their “perceptions and expectations of study in the UK”. All had enquired about places within the last two years at 15 different UK universities.
“The ease of getting a visa to study is far more important than the ability to get permanent residency”
A majority said their main reason to study in the UK was to improve job prospects in their home country by attending a good university. Only 6% said that staying was a primary reason to apply.
The finding comes just a year after the government controversially curtailed the post-study work rights of overseas students as part of a series of student immigration reforms to help lower net migration. It called the now defunct Post Study Work visa route a “backdoor to migration”.
It has said its reforms have not deterred genuine students, but the survey suggest otherwise. Students who chose not to come to the UK did so largely because of their perceptions of visa restrictions including post-study work options (24%), ease of obtaining a visa (24%) and ability to work whilst studying.
“It is clear that the ease of getting a visa to study is far more important than the ability to get permanent residency after study,” states the report.
More worryingly, most students said that a further tightening of regulations would prompt them to switch their prospective destination country. Other English speaking destinations would likely clean up as 32% of those questioned were also considering the US, 20% Australia and 20% Canada, with New Zealand next in line albeit some way behind.
That said, only a tiny number were considering Germany and France despite the rapid spread of English medium instruction in both countries.
“We’ve heard a lot about the threat from Europe, but for students looking to apply to the UK that does not appear to be where their focus is right now,” said Duncan Findlater, director of product and client services at Hobsons.
The company singled out trends which could help improve UK universities’ marketing strategies. A majority of students (72%) said that they decided where to go to university after they applied, most choosing their subject first, then country and finally university.
A majority of students said that they decided where to go to university after they applied
To inform their decision, more than 25% of students used an institution’s website and more than 10% direct email communication. Less than five per cent used agents, social media or university fairs.
Findlater said universities needed to invest in more user friendly websites – something they often overlooked. More also needed to be done to inform parents. “Parents are ranked highest in influence [on the student decision making process] but yet are perceived by students to have the least information,” he said.