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Changing perceptions of study destinations show Australia is gaining ground with international students, new research demonstrates.

The Emerging Futures 4 survey, conducted by international education specialists IDP Education in August 2023, reveals that student perceptions of individual destination countries are continuing to change, influencing their study choices. As a result of these evolving perceptions, Australia has experienced a two per cent increase in students selecting it as their first-choice destination, putting it on par with Canada, which saw a two per cent decline since the previous Emerging Futures survey in March 2023.

Australia saw increases in perceptions of several important factors, including ‘graduate employment opportunities’ and ‘post-study work policies’. Australia also stood out as the only country among the top four study destinations to see an increase in relation to the ‘welfare of international students’ and ‘quality of education’.

Overall, the changing preference in first-choice destinations shows that international students are increasingly choosing or planning to choose Australia and Canada above the UK, which sits in third place out of the top four destination countries. This may indicate a possible future decrease in international student numbers and a potential risk to UK HE finances, which would lead to instability for the sector.

The research, which collates the views of more than 10,000 prospective, applied, and current international students, shows that current students studying in the UK reported the lowest satisfaction rate of the top four destinations with a 7.3 on a scale of 0-10. Comparatively, the US is out in front with a satisfaction rate of 7.8, followed by Australia at 7.5, and Canada at 7.4. Given that 70% of students choose the UK for 'high quality education', the low satisfaction rating may mean this is at risk, particularly as the UK has a narrower mix of factors than Australia and Canada contributing to why it is 'first choice'.

Simon Emmett, IDP Connect Chief Executive Officer, said changes in perceptions and factors that students consider in their decision making show the UK should not rely solely on its reputation as having high-quality educational offerings.

“Policy changes, dynamic shifts within institutions and global economic conditions all have the power to affect a destination’s standings. Global competition between destination countries for international students remains high, and the impact of perceptions of post-graduation opportunities, or lack of opportunities, continues to impact student choice,” Mr. Emmett said.

”The sector must come together to promote the UK effectively by better highlighting the holistic appeal of our universities and reinforcing a broader set of reasons why students should choose the UK. It is also essential to protect current policies that are important to students, such as the Graduate visa route, to ensure the UK is enticing to prospective students as a long-term destination to live, study, and work in before they even apply.”

Rachel MacSween, Director of Partnerships & Stakeholder Engagement, at IDP Connect agrees that sector collaboration sits at the heart of ensuring the UK remains a top study destination for international students. As well as protecting the policies that ensure competitiveness, Rachel also views country-wide promotion as being critical.

“UK universities witnessed a huge boom in enrolments during and after the pandemic as other markets struggled to navigate more stringent travel restrictions that had been put in place. We knew the bounce-back from the other major study destinations would be strong and individual university efforts are being bolstered by state and federal promotion to ensure future students have a complete picture of why they should study in those locations. Institutions in the UK and the wider sector need to rethink what destination marketing could look like, to get the UK back to being top choice for students .”

Jamie Arrowsmith, Director of Universities UK International, said promoting the UK and highlighting the contributions that international students make to universities, towns and cities across the country is the top priority of the UUKi #weareinternationalcampaign.

“The #weareinternational campaign has worked with institutions to reiterate the message to prospective students that the UK is a welcoming place for them to study. We relaunched earlier this year and one of the main reasons is to reverse the decline in how welcoming a study destination the UK is perceived to be by prospective international students. This is reflected in the latest Emerging Futures survey by IDP and shows the messaging is still crucial to our sector. We are grateful to have the information provided by IDP’s research and demand data to add to the conversation and continue to drive our collaborative efforts.”

For more information about the Emerging Futures research, click here.


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Rachel MacSween11 October 2023