Keystone’s State of Student Recruitment 2023 surveyed 23,856 students – over half from Africa – and Canada’s popularity shot up by 29%. Some 16.1% chose it as their top country in which to study.
A further 14.8% said the US was their top destination, 14.4% indicated the UK, while Germany and Australia were selected by 6% and 5.4%, respectively.
When split into undergraduate and postgraduate, the US and the UK took the top spots with 20% and 18.2%, respectively.
However, over three quarters of the respondents for the survey said that studying abroad is generally “too expensive”.
Despite this figure, Adam Rennison, head of business development at Keystone’s subsidiary UniQuest, said the general rebound has been “much more aggressive than we might have expected in 2020”.
“We’ve seen quite an uplift in the partner group of undergraduate applicants, which is encouraging,” he told The PIE.
“It’s kind of caught some people out in terms of processing because a lot of universities have got different admissions teams for different study levels and seeing that spike in UG has had an impact,” he said.
The UK’s popularity overall has dropped by 20% since 2022 – but he defended the UK’s ability to attract students, even in the wake of recent government responses to high net migration figures when it announced new limitations on masters students bringing dependants to the UK.
“We are familiar with the ups and downs and peaks and troughs and changes in legislation.
“There’s often an immediate reaction to decisions and legislation that will have an immediate response for some people as well, but ultimately it’s not going to dampen the appeal of the UK completely,” he insisted.
The general rebound of the sector, according to the report, can be seen by the waning popularity of hybrid classes.
In 2022, hybrid courses made up 32% of preferred modes of program. Meanwhile, in 2023, it made up just 27%.
English is still the top language, with 85% studying in English, with French taking up 6% of classes and Spanish and German each taking up 2%.
In a comparison between 2021 and 2023, the report shows that there has been an increase in the amount of students whose top motivations are to achieve career goals – from 50% to 53% – remaining the largest motivation.
On the other hand, there has been a stark drop in those who put down experiencing a new culture as one of their top motivations.
“We really see the decrease in demand to experience a new culture. I don’t think that’s just since the pandemic – I think it has been happening for a while, but that’s certainly been a pronounced drop in the last few years,” said Jennifer Falzerano, North America manager at the Rennes School of Business.
“I find it to be quite an unfortunate thing as it’s part of my passion as an international educator. But it’s great to see this real increase in career outcomes and really clear needs in terms of, ‘what kind of job can I get that will further my career and take care of me and my family?’” she continued.
“Most institutions in the US are thinking a lot more just about high impact practices, and what exactly that means.”
“Of course, one of those aspects is internships,” said Sheila K Schulte, associate vice president of international programs at the University of North Georgia.
Internships are the most important factor for choosing programs, the report says, with 36.9% of respondents saying as such – and the focus on careers continues, with the third most important being that the program is “resume-enhancing”.
Notably, there has been a 23% rise on 2022 of students researching their degrees abroad six months or less before applying – now at 56%.
According to Rennison, the idea of quicker timelines with applications is being met with mixed reaction from different institutions.
“Some universities are continuing with the traditional processing and structures and resourcing in the face of significant uplift – but a lot of universities are exploring management services, partnering for admissions.
“Most institutions in the US are thinking a lot more just about high impact practices”
“And those universities are forecasting a more efficient way of doing things – and they will be fine because they’re looking at agile solutions and surge management.
“But there’s still a lot of resistance and a lot of traditional ways of managing this type of business that is hampering some institutions,” said Rennison.
Work and study is still on the minds of students, with a 16% rise from 2022 in the amount of students planning on working part-time during their degrees, to 65%.
As new generations begin to look at university, there is also a 6% rise in those using social media to research courses – while most still search through Google and other search engines and university listing platforms, it is now the third most used method to find programs.