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Google data on UKHE offers new take on rankings, demand

The UK’s position as the world’s number two study destination was confirmed this week by new Google-led insight into student searches online into education opportunities, but the report predicts that demand for a UK education will shift toward transnational and online programmes.

The breakdown by universities paints a different picture of popularity than conventional rankings

New data released this week is a collaboration between Google and education consultancy firm OC&C. It identifies which international markets show the greatest growth potential for UK institutions and which of the country’s top 50 universities are most popular, based on Google searches.

The breakdown in search data by university certainly paints a different picture of popularity than conventional rankings, suggesting that universities with active international recruitment strategies in place are searched for more frequently.

Analysis of growth figures shows a clear break from traditional recruitment markets with searches in Oman growing by 32%

Imperial College London, ranked 4th in the Times Good University Guide and with international students making up 42% of enrolled students, was the top among searches.

The University of Cambridge, second in the guide was also second in the index and the University of Oxford, ranked first, came third among searches. But University College London, ranked 7th and with a 41% international population, came 4th among search popularity. The Open University, not even listed in the guide, came 5th.

The research sheds new light on how to measure demand for a UK degree among international students by using unique search terms used on Google over three academic years, across 50 countries and for more than 100 institutions.

From 2010 to 2013, growth in international searches for UK universities increased by 10% compared to just 1% of domestic searches, with most interest shown in the Asia Pacific, South America and Australasia regions.

China, the US and Malaysia were the top three countries in terms of volume and growth of searches.

But, analysis of growth figures alone shows a clear break from traditional recruitment markets with searches in Oman growing by 32%, Indonesia by 30% and Denmark by 29% over the last three years.

The report forecasts that global tertiary international enrolments will grow by 7.3% by 2020 driven by Asia and Africa, both expected to increase student mobility by 9% over the next seven years.

Mark Jeynes, partner at OC&C, presented the data at the OBHE conference this week in London. Speaking with The PIE News, he said the figures uphold the UK’s current position as a top study destination, but that the future is in overseas delivery.

“Clearly there is a strong pull to the British brand, the UK has 13% of the global mobile student body,” he said. “As we move forward in time I think we’ll see people realising the transnational opportunities are worth as much or more than domestic opportunities.”

“We’re seeing 5-6% growth in the students coming here to study and we should expect to see that level of growth not in students coming here but interested in higher education,” he added.

The report forecasts that international student fee income at UK universities is set to reach £12 billion by 2020, up from the current £5 billion. Online & distance learning’s contribution to income is expected to grow by 24% while fees from transnational campuses are predicted to increase 16%.

The report identifies eleven countries set to be the next markets primed for TNE expansion: Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Kenya, Turkey, Pakistan, Mexico, Egypt, Nigeria, Bangladesh and South Korea.

Growth in international searches for UK universities increased by 10% compared to just 1% of domestic searches

OC&C’s collaboration with Google began a year ago through its retail part of the consultancy business but Jeynes says it is expanding its outlook beyond the UK market. “We’re both interested in working with universities, whether it’s helping them with their strategy from my perspective or helping them with digital marketing strategy from Google’s perspective,” he said.

He argued that only a few UK universities are “geared up” for TNE.

“There’s no doubt that continental European universities are getting their act together and are now beginning to go for pathway programmes, they’ve woken up to the opportunity of international students, they’re offering more degree undergrad and masters in English language,” he said.

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