QS International Student Survey: What drives an international student today?

Up-to-date technology is the top priority of international students choosing universities – even superseding the quality of the teaching staff – according to a new survey published by QS.

The 2018 International Student Survey, carried out by QS Enrolment Solutions (formerly Hobsons), is based on the responses of 67,000 students in 63 universities around the world. The published report focuses on the 28,000 who were considering a move to the UK.

Some 65 percent of respondents placed technology among their top five priorities, with 64 percent nominating the quality of teaching staff as their primary concern. The results contrast with those deriving from UK students in a similar survey, who focused more on the results that students achieve upon graduation and future employment rates.

Students were also asked which factors indicated to them that a member of staff would deliver good-quality teaching. By far the most popular answer was they that were passionate about the subject they taught. Real-world experience and positive reviews from students were the next most valuable indicators of teaching competence.

Most respondents made their choice of subject before choosing a country or university, before progressing to choose course, and, finally, a destination of study. Three-quarters were considering five universities or less, with three the most popular total.

A course leading to a particular career was among the top priorities for 74 per cent of respondents, with high-quality teaching again second in the list and affordable fee options third.

Friends or family who had studied abroad were an important influence, the survey found. More than half of all respondents had friends with overseas study experience and the same was true of family members for 21 per cent of the sample.

The cost of living and availability of scholarships were the most common concerns of prospective international students, followed by safety and finding accommodation. Asked what would make them less uneasy, the largest group of respondents chose the ability to ask questions of international students at an institution. This was followed closely by a desire to have friends or family in the country in which they intended to study.

More than 80 per cent of respondents were using social media were using social media as one of their search tools, but the platform varied widely by country. Facebook was by far the most popular, with 56 per cent using it overall, but only 43 per cent used it in the United States and 46 per cent in China, where Weibo was used by 56 per cent of respondents.

Asked how they thought universities would change in the next 10 years, students said they expected most lectures to be online, and that students would be able to get a qualification from any university, regardless of which country it was based in.


Growth in International Student Numbers

US universities have registered by far the strongest growth in international student numbers over the past decade, according to a new report by the British Council.

An analysis of enrolments in the four main host countries for international students shows that the strongest growth in 2013-14 was in Australia. But two years of sharp decline from 2010-2 left Canada and the UK, as well as the US, with bigger increases over the full period.

There has been 80 per cent growth in US enrolments since 2004, with increases almost every year. By 2012, US universities and colleges had 170,000 more international students than those in the UK.

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Revealing trends from Google on university-related web searches.

According to a recent BBC news story[1], the Internet giant Google has published its Top 20 most searched universities by Google users worldwide for 2014. The two main trends revealed by this latest list are not only interesting but also thought provoking.

First and foremost, we are witnessing a clear and significant increase in MOOCs popularity. The leading MOOCs providers such as Coursera or edX have been registering online visitors to their websites well above and beyond many traditional and leading institutions such as the University of Cambridge. These platforms, present users with the opportunity to learn and acquire skills and knowledge by reputable institutions while at the same time offer a great deal of flexibility and personal input for each of the users – students. It is certainly not surprising that modern advances in education have made MOOCs popular, reliable and in many cases a preferred alternative to further study overall, especially in times where disposable income for many may be an issue. It also appears that MOOCs and their potential will soon ripen as a field of academic competition and it will be very exciting to see how the top universities in the world will adapt and follow this specific trend.

The second major trend revealed is that Universities no longer rely on the Internet merely for filling in their news feed and sharing important updates, but as the context of educational services becomes even more internationalised and diverse, they begin to adjust their websites for recruiting and attracting international talent. Many of the websites now feature virtual tours, informative videos, advanced graphics and layouts, while more and more departments and schools within the universities are moving to modernise their respective web pages. This is not only due to technological advancements that allow this changes to take place, but it stems primarily by the way we are experiencing and accessing information in the current age, where one institution’s website is in effect its public face.

For more information you can access the full article here.



International students consider both institutional and subject rankings when choosing a school

By John O’Leary

A university’s performance in subject rankings is second only in importance to the level of tuition fees it charges, according to a new survey of international students’ decision-making.

The findings, in a poll of 13,800 students applying to universities in the UK and Australia, underline the value of the 30 QS subject rankings published in February. No other organisation publishes international rankings for individual subjects.

The survey was carried out by Hobsons, the education software and services company, to follow up on the findings of similar research published last year, which found that teaching quality was the prime consideration for international students. The researchers wanted to establish how applicants judged this.

Duncan Findlater, Hobsons’ Director of Client and External Relations, outlined the findings at a conference in London this month. He said that 77 per cent of international students reported using both institutional and subject rankings in choosing a course.

However, when asked to name the most important factor in reaching a final decision, the level of tuition fees was cited by the largest number of applicants – 24.6 per cent. Subject rankings came next, at 22.8 per cent, just ahead of university rankings at 20.9 per cent. Other significant factors were the proportion of graduates in employment and the number of hours of teaching.

Student satisfaction, which carries the heaviest weighting in domestic rankings in the UK, was cited as the most important factor by only 7.6 per cent of respondents. Mr Findlater said the findings suggested that universities should lead their marketing with the rankings in their strongest subjects.

The research also showed that small movements up or down rankings had little effect on applicants’ perception of universities or courses. But universities would find it difficult to recruit in some parts of the world unless they ranked in the top 20 per cent.

The findings were released little more than a month after QS published the 30 subject rankings for 2014. Nearly 1 million people accessed the rankings website in the week of publication, including more than 200,000 on the day of their release. Three quarters were new visitors to the site.

Subject rankings have become increasingly popular since they were first published by QS four years ago. Harvard and the Massachusetts of Technology were the most successful universities in the latest rankings, but others with particular areas of excellence also shone. New York University topped the philosophy table, for example, while the University of California, Davis, emerged as the world’s leading institution for agriculture.





Subject Trends & International Student Mobility



Students looking for postgraduate courses are considering a wider range of countries than ever before, according to surveys of those attending QS recruitment events all around the world.

As in 2009, the United States and the United Kingdom were, by some distance, the preferred destinations of students at QS World Grad School Tour events in 2013. But both had declined in popularity, while Continental European countries, led by Germany, were options for many more applicants.

QS surveyed more than 4,000 students in 2012-13, compared with almost 3,500 in 2008-9.  The questions covered graduate-level study plans, preferred study destinations, priorities when deciding where to study, and future salary and career expectations.

The latest responses showed a shift towards STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, with almost 21 per cent of students seeking courses in these areas, compared with less than 17 per cent previously. But the FAME (finance, accounting, management and economics) group still attracted twice as many of those attending the fairs, despite a decline of 8 percentage points since 2009.

The lure of US universities showed a similar decline – 6.6 percentage points down over the same period – but still almost 60 per cent of students were considering courses there. The drop for UK universities was 8 per cent, but the proportion considering them, at 53.4 per cent, was twice that for Canada, the next most popular destination.

German universities enjoyed the biggest increase in popularity, growth of almost 9 per cent taking the country into fourth place, above Australia. Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden also saw substantial increases, although France remained a more popular destination, with 22.7 per cent of attendees considering studying there.

Study costs, financial aid and post-graduation employment prospects are becoming increasingly important factors, the survey showed. But international recognition remains the single most important criterion for those choosing to study abroad.

Those responding to the 2013 survey had high expectations for career development and salaries.

The majority saw themselves in 10 years’ time either running their own business (24 per cent), director of a large company (17 per cent) or a chief executive (15 per cent). Almost 18 per cent were hoping for a salary of more than US$100,000 by then.

The report is intended to assist universities in targeting their recruitment efforts. Interviews carried out during the survey process suggested that many applicants found it difficult to access the information they needed to make their decisions. Universities’ online resources were often perceived as unclear, confusing, incomplete or unreliable.

The complete report can be downloaded here:



France and international students – a perspective

In the current context of internationalization and increased competition between universities and countries, attracting international students is a major challenge all countries have to take – including France. France has already an excellent potential since it is the 4th country with the most international students, after the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia – and the 1st non-English-speaking country, before Germany[1]. This trend is confirmed by the latest QS World University Rankings. Unsurprisingly, French universities perform the best in the International Students index, with 15 institutions in the top 200 in this indicator. This is opposed to only five French universities in the top 200 for the overall rankings.

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The Wider Benefits of International Higher Education in the UK

More people are studying for a British degree outside the UK than within it. But how good a time are they having?

A new initiative from the UK’s Quality Assurance Agency and the British Council (the soft power arm of the British government) is intended reassure overseas students of UK qualifications of the experience they will receive. At the moment, it consists mainly of a memorandum of understanding and an agreement to share information, apparently with few powers of enforcement. It remains to be seen how it will be tested by a future case of student unhappiness with a British higher education offering, or how it will cope with a major crisis which involves the risk of reputation damage to UK higher education as a whole.

Concern about the quality of UK higher education delivered abroad is partly driven by the government’s interest in expanding this form of provision. There is continuing political warfare in the current UK coalition government over the number of visas to be issued to international students. Taking their fees while they get a British degree without leaving home is seen as one part of the solution.

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International student

Who’s Your Agent? The Art of Attracting International Students

Universities all over the world use agents to bring in international students. The good ones are valuable allies for both institutions and applicants. But there is no shortage of tales of agents who cost too much and produced too little, in extreme cases causing reputation damage to the university itself. Now QS and its partner in India, Manya, have got together to analyse just what makes for a good relationship between university and agent.

A QS whitepaper (available here) found that over 500 US universities use agents. So do their competitors in the UK, Australia and other major destination countries for foreign study. In Asia, where time zones as well as language and culture differ from the US, they are an especially tempting option. It is estimated that 60-80 per cent of Chinese and Indian students studying abroad come via an agent.

In an analysis of the use of agents for graduate student recruitment, QS and Manya point out that agents tend to enter the frame at a late stage, once students have formed a good idea of where they wish to go. At that point, a good one becomes a trusted adviser. So it is important for them to have detailed knowledge of the institution they represent, which they may well never have visited.

This means that one key to using an agent effectively is to help them be well-informed, with a manual on the university and up-to-date knowledge of its academic offerings as well as its admissions system and its administration. It is always worth letting agents know which courses are in most need of more people.

And try to remember that agents who seem pushy are just doing their job. A university takes an average of ten days to process an international student application. However, most students accept the first offer they get. So the agent is right to press for a quick decision. In the same way, it is only reasonable for them to ask universities for fee waivers, scholarships and other sweeteners to bring in the best students.

QS and Manya also find that even without these concessions, it probably costs $4-5,000 to recruit a student via an agent, half in the agent’s own fees and half in the form of extra travel, administration and student support. If this seems like a lot, it remains true that a good agent costs less than directly employed staff, and delivers more.

Finally,do not expect your agent to be an expert on high-level academic content. While they may give good advice on an appropriate Master’s course, they should never be involved in finding a PhD supervisor. Their role with PhD students should only begin once the student knows where they wish to go and who they want to work with.