According to UCAS, by 2026, the number of international undergraduate applicants to UK institutions will rise by 46% to 208,500.
In the “Where Next? What influences the choices international students make?”, Prospective students hold the UK's universities and colleges in "the highest regard," according to a report co-authored by UCAS and the College Board. It also stated that as the world recovers from the pandemic, there is a "renewed interest in living and learning" in the country. "International students apply for a focused group of subjects, are highly independent with their research, and around half of them study abroad to follow in their parents' footsteps," according to the report.
“Our findings from this joint research with the College Board focus on international students’ mindsets and what they want from their higher education experience,” Clare Marchant, UCAS chief executive, said in a statement.
While 80 percent of Nigerian respondents said they were most interested in gaining skills to help them advance in their careers, the most important factor for 75% of Indian respondents was that UK HE options are of "better quality."
Prospects after graduation are most important to applicants to the United States (57%), Singapore (54%), and the United Kingdom (54%), while experiencing life in the country is most important to applicants to Italy (75%) and the Netherlands (72%).
Prospective students want to hear from current students when researching study options, with 40% suggesting open days and 39% suggesting interaction with current students were important. Students are increasingly using both methods, according to the companies.
A close family member had previously studied abroad, according to 47% of respondents, implying that parental influence is important.
The results “reaffirm the desire of so many students to study in another country”, Linda Liu, College Board’s vice president of international, highlighted. “Studying abroad is a big decision, and we continue to see international students planning early, being thoughtful about their research, and fiercely seeking tangible outcomes from their experience,” she said.
In 2021, the College Board reported that a record number of international students took Advanced Placement exams, surpassing pre-pandemic participation by 4% to reach 84,000. Furthermore, many students sending their SAT scores to universities outside of their home country have shown a desire to study abroad, according to Liu. More than 155,000 international students chose the UK as their destination of choice and began their studies during the pandemic, according to Liu and Des Cutchey, managing director at UCAS International.
Cutchey and Liu added that UCAS is urging the next iteration of the UK's International Education Strategy to "endorse a nation-specific and action-led approach to promoting UK HE."
“It is by growing nation-level intelligence as to the different values, motivations and interests held within key markets that the UK will be able to diversify its international recruitment, thereby cementing its position within an increasingly competitive global marketplace,” they added.
According to UCAS, the volume of international applicants through UCAS could increase by 46% to 208,500 by 2026, representing a 27% increase over the 2021 cycle. Rising demand presents significant opportunities for the UK to expand and diversify its classrooms; however, markets such as the United States, China, Canada, Australia, and the United Arab Emirates face "growing competition." Cutchey and Liu made a point.
“It’s time to stop thinking of ‘international students’ as one homogenous group and start waking up to the need to meet their unique needs. If diversification is the long-term goal, personalisation must surely be the star player,” they concluded.