The global education solutions company’s annual student survey asked more than 45,500 students from 210 countries about their priorities in higher education and what they look for in a study destination.
“Failure to improve post-study work opportunities will see revenue generation from international students rapidly decline”
It also looked at where students considering studying in the UK eventually decide to study.
One aspect of the report that “really stands out” as a year-on-year change is the rising popularity of Germany as a study destination, according to Honor Paddock, director of client success at Hobsons, with respondents listing the country as a potential location nearly 10% more than in last year’s survey.
“This tells us a lot about how government policy in different countries affects their relative popularity – as Britain has become much stricter on visas and has limited post-study work options, Germany has maintained a liberal and welcoming regime,” Paddock explained.
“That is helping to undermine some of the UK’s traditional advantages in the market for international students.”
International recognition of qualifications and quality of education compared to the student’s home country – two things for which UK institutions are known – were listed as the most significant factors in a student’s decision to study in one country over another.
However, the ability to work while studying (28%) and post-study work options (26%) were also named as important factors in this decision – areas where the UK government has tightened restrictions in recent months and years.
In addition, post-study work options (36%) and job prospects or migration to the destination country (31%) were listed as the top reasons for not choosing the UK.
“The government must be sent a clear message,” the report urges. “Failure to improve post-study work opportunities will see revenue generation from international students rapidly decline, with this revenue something UK institutions have long relied on.
“The long-term effects and rebuild could last decades.”
“International students are becoming more and more like domestic students in terms of what they demand from their studies”
As well as the political implications of the survey findings, the research has highlighted the extent to which international students are now looking for “more than a good degree”, Paddock said.
“They are looking for a leg-up the career ladder too,” she said. “And they know that a degree plus work experience and an opportunity to develop soft and employability skills really matter to their future prospects.”
“In that sense, international students are becoming more and more like domestic students in terms of what they demand from their studies.”
The survey shows that international students have a “broad perception of value”. ‘Face-to-face interaction’ and ‘making personal connections’ were key considerations that students thought about when considering their higher education options, ranked very important, highly important or important by 90% and 83% of respondents respectively.
However, employability considerations topped this list, with 90% ranking ‘improving my future earning potential’ and ‘getting a job when I graduate’ as pressing concerns.
With this in mind, institutions should focus their efforts on emphasising work-related elements of their courses, Paddock recommended.
“Emphasising employability programmes, links to industry and the possibility of work-experience through study can all help universities push back against the tide,” she said. “So too can expert targeting of potential students and good intelligence.”
One way in which institutions an do this is to contact potential students early, the report states.
The report highlighted that decisions about tertiary-level start early – 30% of survey repsondents said they began researching their options between the ages of 11 and 15, and a further 15% between the ages of seven and 10.
It therefore counsels that 11 years old is the “optimal time for institutions to engage and begin building a relationship” with students.
“The overall message is clear: institutions must speak to a younger cohort,” the report advises.
“Playing the long game and targeting prospective students at a more preliminary research stage could be an effective strategy in building commitment and loyalty from an earlier age.”
Though these strategies may be effective, Paddock warned alongside that the individual efforts of HE providers, “we need government to take this issue seriously”.
“The lessening of Britain’s advantages – our language, the prestige of our institutions and of historic and cultural connections – really shows up in this survey,” she warned. “That should be a real worry for government, as competitor countries like Germany and France begin to overtake.”
To download the full report click here or follow @HobsonsEMEA.