Based on a total of 16,560 responses to the QS 2016-2017 Applicant Survey, the report highlighted a shift in destination choice for students in some target regions, together with some changes in the factors that drive students’ decisions and their priorities for higher education.
“If Canada can sustain this level of growth, the UK may have to accept a relegation to third place”
The US and the UK remain the top study destinations overall, ranking first and second respectively, followed by Canada, Australia and Germany.
According to the report, however, Canada is replacing the UK as the second most popular destination for applicants in Latin America, Asia Pacific and Africa and the Middle East.
“It is interesting to see student preferences change this year, particularly in the context of the recent geopolitical events in the US and the UK,” report author and QS Market Insights manager Dasha Karzunina said.
Student mobility patterns, the report noted, are “on the precipice of transformation.”
Where it has not replaced the UK, Canada has risen up the ranks significantly, as is the case in Western Europe where it has knocked the Netherlands off the top-five.
QS spokesperson Jack Moran told The PIE News that Canada’s success is a “multi-causal phenomenon” encompassing lower fees, high quality of student experience, and the global perception of Canada “as a country that remains committed to liberal immigration policy”.
If the current trends continue, with Canada’s numbers booming and the UK’s growth hovering around 1%, Moran explained, we can expect to see Canada overtake the UK in popularity as an international student destination.
“If Canada can sustain this level of growth, the UK may have to accept a relegation to third place, and our imminent exit from the European Union seems unlikely to improve the situation,” he added.
The report also revealed that the US has snatched the top spot for Eastern Europe from the UK for the first time since QS records began, but it has seen its popularity drop in all nations affected by Trump’s travel ban – except for Yemen, where it has risen from third to first place.
“Nations wishing to ensure that talented graduates remain in their country make the easy acquisition of post-study work visas a priority”
As for how students choose their destination, 42% of respondents said their priority was ‘scholarship/financial aid availability.’
The study warned that high fees, fears about budget cuts in the US under the Trump administration and loss of EU funding in the UK may be a factor explaining the decline in popularity of the two destinations.
The second most commonly cited factor was ‘international recognition of qualifications’, followed by the potential for post-study work in the country – a trend already noted in a 2015 QS survey.
“Certainly, recent trends seem to suggest that nations wishing to ensure that talented graduates remain in their country make the easy acquisition of post-study work visas a priority,” Moran said.
The report also detected a change in students’ motivations when selecting a program.
In 2017, the most commonly-cited reason for starting a master’s was career-related, but as of 2018 the majority of students chose ‘to progress to a higher qualification level’.
Students, according to the report, increasingly think that an undergraduate degree is no longer sufficient.
Meanwhile, the opportunity to participate in exchange programs was a priority for less than 20% of respondents. However, percentages jump to around 30% in Latin America, with 36% of undergraduates from that region indicating exchange programs as a reason for enrolling in a course.
The report noted that the region’s appetite for study abroad experiences may lie in the fact that the internationalisation of its universities is still in its developing stage.
Latin America’s multilingual makeup, with some communities speaking Italian and German beyond Spanish or Portuguese, may also be a factor.