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China leads upbeat charge for US, UK enrolments in global agent survey

A global survey of education agents shows bullish attitudes for international student enrolments for the coming year in both the UK and US.

Education Agent

A quarter of agents in both MENA and India expect to send fewer students to the US.

Carried out by INTO University Partnerships in March-April this year, the survey of 1,300 agents shows concerns that political and safety factors in both countries would deter students could have been premature.

However, breakdowns by country reveal demand for studying in the world’s top two destinations varies dramatically by nationality with Chinese agents overwhelmingly more positive than their counterparts in India and the Middle East & North Africa. Expectations for enrolment growth in Canada, meanwhile, are high among agents in all key source countries.

Overall, more than two thirds (68%) of agents globally said they would send more students to the UK this year compared to last year, while 62% said the same for sending students to the US.

“Like it or not, our fortunes in international education are more heavily wedded to successful recruitment from China than anywhere else”

Only around a quarter of agents said they would send the same number of students to either country and 6% said they would send fewer to the UK while 12% said they expect to see fewer students going to the US.

Looking at Chinese responses, certainty in the attractiveness of the US and UK surged even further. Just over 80% of agents said they expect to send more students to the US while just 2% said fewer. Similarly, for the UK, 84% expect to send more students and only 1% expect a drop.

Responses from India and MENA, however, paint a less sanguine picture. Just under half (48%) of the agents in MENA said they will send more students to the US and 55% of agents in India said they will send more. A quarter of agents in both MENA and India expect to send fewer students.

The UK proved more attractive among agents in MENA with 82% saying they expect to send more students there while just over half (52%) of agents in India said there will be an increase. Almost 20% of Indian agents expect to send fewer students to the UK.

“Our personal feeling and an item that’s reenforced by the survey results and general information that’s out there is that, like it or not, our fortunes in international education are more heavily wedded to successful recruitment from China than anywhere else,” commented David Amor, director of market insight and knowledge at INTO.

Perceptions of safety in the United States in particular also vary by nationality with 40% of agents in India and 37% of agents in MENA saying views of the US as a safe destination have worsened. Meanwhile, 84% of Chinese agents say it has improved or stayed the same.

“Whether this reflects evidence of a more strident nationalistic rhetoric or the widespread reporting in India of the murder of two Indian workers in Kansas earlier this year, what is very clear is that certain regions are increasingly concerned about the safety of their students in the United States,” noted INTO’s vice president for global partner development, Tim O’Brien in a blog post.

In contrast, the perception of safety in the UK remains consistent among agents globally with 58% saying it has stayed the same and 33% saying it has improved. The survey was taken prior to the attacks in Manchester in London, however.

“It is difficult to forecast the wider impact the attacks will have on perceptions of safety,” O’Brien told The PIE News. “While these are very tragic events, the UK and the US, for that matter, remain amongst the world’s safest destinations.  Hopefully, the messages of togetherness and inclusion which emanate in the aftermath of these attacks also resonate powerfully around the world.”

Responses from MENA and Indian agents about the ease of the visa process also stood out from China and the global average.

About half of all Indian agents said they thought it would be harder to get a visa to both the US and the UK while 43% of MENA agents said the visa process had worsened in the US.

This is compared with 72% of all agents saying the visa process to the US has improved or stayed the same and 83% of the total saying the same for the UK.

Visa rejections for students intending to study in the US throughout 2016 have shaken the confidence of INTO’s agent network, wrote O’Brien. “This in turn drives almost a quarter of those agents to explore alternative destinations for their students.”

Countries picking up the slack are Australia, Ireland and especially Canada, according to responses, which show that agents in top sending countries for both the US and UK expect to send more students to these countries.

“What is very clear is that certain regions are increasingly concerned about the safety of their students in the United States”

In India, 84% of agents said they expect to send more students to Canada, 74% said the same about Ireland and 80% said they will send more to Australia.

Among Vietnamese agents, interest in Canada is huge with 92% of respondents saying they will send more students there in the coming year. Around 70% said they expect to send more to Australia and just over half said they are confident they’ll send more to Ireland.

Meanwhile in South Korea, agents report the US, UK and Canada will remain top destinations for students. Eighty-six per cent of agents said they expect to send more students to Canada, 85% said they’ll send more to the US and 80% said they’ll see an increase in students going to the UK. Just a quarter said they expect more to go to Australia.

And from Brazil, Canada will receive more students this year than last year, according to 90% of respondents. Three quarters of respondents are confident they’ll send more to Australia and Ireland each, on par with confidence in increased student numbers going to the UK and US.

A recent survey from Belta, Brazil’s study travel association, reflected a similar rise in demand for Canada as it topped the list of study destinations in 2016.

“I think certainly from the levels of positivity that they’re going to send more students to Canada,” noted Amor.

“When things are going well for a country and key countries that agents serve, they do diversify. It’s one of the key items that drives people to expand from being US or UK specialists to take on other countries so that could be something that we’re seeing here.”

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