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UK “standout performer” in international student recruitment race

New Zealand and Canada have been rated highest as ‘safe and stable’ study destinations, but the UK is “currently the standout performer in the race to recruit international students”, a survey of some 300 agents from 54 countries has suggested.

New Zealand is seen to be the most safe and stable destination, but ranked fourth for open and welcoming, the survey showed. Photo: Unsplash

"Opinions on the UK’s handling have improved substantially since the first round of research in May 2020"

Compiled by Navitas in September, the research found that agent responses indicated that the way governments have handled the coronavirus is becoming less of a choice factor as the pandemic evolves.

“New Zealand, Canada and Australia are all considered more safe and stable, but less open and welcoming”

New Zealand, Canada and Australia are all considered more ‘safe and stable’ than other anglophone study destinations, such as the UK and US. However, the three countries are also viewed as “less open and welcoming” than the UK – sentiment which may be more pertinent for agents, the survey concluded.

Since the last survey two months ago, the proportion of agents agreeing that the reputation of a country as ‘safe and stable’ and ‘open and welcoming’ has improved, Navitas noted.

“It would appear that the way governments have handled the coronavirus is becoming less of a choice factor as the pandemic evolves,” it said.

Despite the UK’s “relatively” weak score on ‘safe and stable’ (59% agreeing), it ranks the highest on ‘open and welcoming’ (71% agreeing), its reputation ranked highest among agents, the education provider suggested.

New Zealand is the “prime example” of a destination that ranked highly on ‘safe and stable’, with 75% of agents agreeing, but it ranked four of five regarding ‘open and welcoming’.

“It is apparent that these two dimensions do not go hand in hand,” the survey noted.

“New Zealand, Canada and Australia are all considered more safe and stable, but less open and welcoming.

“There is a big difference for New Zealand in particular, which is seen to be the most safe and stable but the least open and welcoming. On the flip side, the UK is not seen as particularly safe and stable (ranked four out of five) but is considered to be the most open and welcoming by a wide margin,” it added.

“For agents, a country’s reputation as being ‘open and welcoming’ is currently more important than its reputation as being ‘safe and stable’ when it comes to its attractiveness as a study destination”, the report’s author Jon Chew, head of strategic insights and analytics at Navitas, explained.

“On the whole, agents are less enthusiastic about how countries have handled the coronavirus pandemic over the last two months,” the report said.

“One of the most significant findings of the September survey is the shift in perceptions of the UK’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis,” it continued.

“Opinions on the UK’s handling have improved substantially since the first round of research in May 2020.”

In contrast New Zealand, Australia and Canada each saw a decline of between 15 and 20 percentage points in response to the question about the government’s handling of the coronavirus, representing a shift in the perceptions of agents around those destinations.

Sentiment for the US is the lowest in anglophone destinations with only around one in 10 agents agreeing that its reputation for being a ‘safe and stable’ (10%) and ‘open and welcoming’ (11%) country improving over the last two months, the survey showed.

“Agents’ perspectives on the USA continue to deteriorate with 63% of agents disagreeing that the USA has become more safe and stable for international students in the last two months,” the report noted.

A possible explanation for a change in agents’ responses include differences in performance between countries moderating, “especially as each country faces the challenges of sporadic outbreaks and second or third waves”.

“Agents’ perspectives on the USA continue to deteriorate”

Openness and ability may be becoming an over-riding short term concern, as pre-Covid fundamentals that drive destination attractiveness start to reassert and influence destination decisions, could be additional reasons for government pandemic handling becoming less of a choice factor, Navitas maintained.

“Strong performers have become less distinctive as more and more countries find mixed results (be it health, social or political) in attempts to get the virus under control,” it also suggested.

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One Response to UK “standout performer” in international student recruitment race

  1. As incoming Dean International at the University of Surrey, here in the UK, I’m delighted to read that the UK continues to be a strong, even trend-setting destination for high-quality university degrees. Both UK HEIs and individual academics have worked tireless to keep the doors open; I’m personally looking forward to a renewed spirit of engagement with key global partners from January 2021 onwards.

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