Ready, steady, go? International applicants want more information to inform their study decisions

“When asked about how ready they felt to study abroad ahead of the autumn, half of applicants felt either only somewhat ready or not ready at all”

Demand for UK HE remains strong, though international students want to know more about what’s in store for them, writes Des Cutchey, Managing Director, UCAS International.

As society and the education sector continues to adapt to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, we know international students continue to face uncertainty as they navigate their first academic year, or plan for future study in the UK. What will travel and the student experience look like in the current context? What will life look like as precautions related to the pandemic continue to change?

Much has already been said about the impact of the pandemic on international student recruitment. Despite the challenges at play, non-EU applicant and placed applicant numbers are up on last year which is a testament to the enduring appeal of UK HE, and the work of the sector – particularly throughout the last two years – to ensure international students are well supported. And from discussions with concerned students, parents and education agents during a visit to the MENA region just last month, this is key going forward, too.

As the largest single channel for international recruitment to UK undergraduate courses, UCAS is well placed to provide insights on the priorities and concerns of students looking to study in the UK to support the sector in its decision making, and ensure the UK to remains a competitive destination of choice.

Towards the end of the 2021 cycle, in collaboration with YouthSight, we surveyed over 500 international applicants who applied for autumn 2021 or 2022 undergraduate entry at a UK university or college, to get a better sense of what is attracting these applicants to the UK, and what they are thinking about as they prepare for their studies.

Applicants keen to study in the UK, though half could feel more ready

Today’s report Where next? The experience of international students connecting to UK higher education, shares new insight on students’ perceptions of the UK and the impact of Covid on applications.

The top headline is a good news story: 88% of international applicants continue to see the UK as a positive or very positive place to study, and 63% of applicants also believe the UK is a better option compared to other countries they considered for their studies.

The recent introduction of the Graduate route is also driving interest in wanting to study and work in the UK. Future employability in the applicant’s country of study (54%) was identified as a more important factor than future employability in the applicant’s home country (37%) in making decisions about study destinations.

However, when asked about how ready they felt to study abroad ahead of the autumn, half of applicants felt either only somewhat ready or not ready at all. Challenges related to the pandemic, such as general uncertainty and changes to course delivery were, unsurprisingly, top of mind for these applicants. Having delivered a session on how to apply as part of British Council’s Study UK activity at Dubai Expo just before Christmas, I can say this feeling was echoed strongly amongst prospective students.

Our survey respondents were also worried about the financial impacts of studying and living in the UK, hesitant to leave friends and family, and continuing to await confirmations of their study offers before making a final decision on their destination of study. This final point is an interesting one as it links to what a future admissions system could look like– it highlights the importance of ensuring admissions reform supports international student recruitment and does not impact on the UK’s competitive position.

About the author: Des Cutchey is Managing Director at UCAS International. He has been involved in the international education industry for a number of years, across the english language, professional qualifications and higher education sectors.