Surveying over 28,500 prospective international students from 193 countries, the 2019 report found 54% of students chose their institution based on how welcoming it was to overseas students, compared to 32% who prioritised both reputation and ranking instead.
“The degree to which employers see things as important is often significantly higher than students”
“Students would probably come with a certain amount of anxiety about ‘how will I study and how will I live in a country where English is not my first language’,” explained Davorin Vrdoljak, QS Enrolment Solutions’ vice president operations.
“Some of it could just be it’s their first time where they’re actually considering studying abroad and they haven’t been before.”
The first time in its seven-year history, the survey has asked prospective students about their needs around hospitality: the 2019 results present an interesting perspective into the motivations of international students.
Ranked third overall behind teaching quality and scholarships, the perception of being welcomed improved to the most influential factor for students when choosing a destination country.
Almost three-fifths of respondents indicated hospitality was in their top-five most important factors when deciding which country to study in, compared to 42% who mentioned an affordable cost of living.
Speaking with The PIE News, Vrdoljak said the findings presented several opportunities around student safety, wellbeing and inclusivity, both for universities and Australia more broadly, but added there was more needed than just a marketing campaign.
“Certainly, beyond the actual marketing message about what their campuses are like and how welcoming and safe they are, the other significant part of this is what outcomes they can expect,” he said.
“The single highest factor in a student choosing a course, and therefore a university and even the country, is actually around the career prospects as a consequence of doing that course.”
Vrdoljak added that many of the key findings around graduate employability in turn factored back into a broader perception of feeling welcomed and accepted into a country, adding that if expectations weren’t being met, students felt less welcomed.
“The majority of international students are making their decisions about whether or not to study in Australia on the back of their future employment outcomes,” he said, continuing that therefore “we also need to consider about how do we make their experience a lot more rewarding in that respect”.
“The other significant part of this is what outcomes they can expect”
Concerningly, however, the findings of the survey found a widening gap between what employers require of graduates and what prospective students assume employers require.
Comparing what which skills survey participants thought employers looked for against the results of the recent Global Skills Gap in the 21st Century report, which looked at employer expectations, only three of the key areas overlapped: problem-solving, communication, and ability to work in a team.
“[Prospective students] assumed that the employers are looking for creativity and leadership in the top five, but they don’t even come close,” said Vrdoljak.
“Even in the areas where there’s an overlap between employer expectations and student assumptions, the degree to which employers see things as important is often significantly higher than the degree to which students think it’s important.”
The disparity, which saw 96% of employers rate problem-solving skills as important compared to 77% of students, highlighted a significant area of work for the sector to reset student expectations, Vrdoljak added.
Wellbeing as a broader offering to international students has become a focus for several destination countries recently, with Australian education minister Dan Tehan announcing a review of mental health in early 2019, while New Zealand launched its own international student wellbeing strategy in mid-2017.
The UK international student survey found more work was needed to prepare for post-Brexit.