New findings from the world’s largest international education agent survey affirm concerns about continued attractiveness of the United States as a study destination. The survey of more than 1300, education counsellors from 85 countries, was conducted by INTO University Partnerships during March and April of 2017.
While overall sentiment remains broadly positive, there are significant regional variations in the responses. China, the bedrock of international demand for the United Kingdom and the United States indicates demand will remain buoyant. On the other hand, feedback from agents across India and the Middle East indicates that some institutions and countries are going to have to work much harder to overcome some negative perceptions.
- China, the world’s largest market, remains buoyant with strong forecast demand for the United States and the United Kingdom
- There is clear indications of a rising concern over safety and signals of welcome for the United States – especially from India and the Middle East
- There is a perception of student visa processes becoming markedly more challenging for students from India in particular
- Most agents report improvements in the United Kingdom as a value destination – a by-product of Brexit and the devaluation of UK sterling against most global currencies.Ultimately, demand for an international education remains strong, but this survey provides a powerful reminder that we should not take that demand for granted. Perceptions matter and those institutions and countries who expect to welcome international students need to continue to work hard to develop an offer which remains compelling to them. It is more important than ever that we continue to reinforce the positive messages which have been the recent hallmark of US higher education in the aftermath of the US election and the recent Executive orders.
MORE OR LESS – DEMAND FOR THE COMING 12 MONTHS FOR UNTIED STATES AND UNITED KINGDOM
Across the global network of agents, the majority still forecast increases in the number of students coming to the United States and the United Kingdom. (Our more detailed results, available in two weeks will carry details of forecasts for Australia, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand).
Chinese agents remain most buoyant – all expressing confidence about sending more students in the coming 12 months. What is noticeable however is an increase in the number of agents from India and the Middle East who expect to send fewer students to the United States in the coming twelve months. This appears to be linked to three factors, perceptions of visa processes and welcome and increasing perception of challenges in safety, which we explore in more detail in this post.
NOT EVERYONE FEELS THE WARMTH
Agents from the Middle East and India, the United States’ second largest market, report an increase in negative sentiment. More than half the agents in India report the US has become less welcoming over the past 12 months. And almost half of those based in the Middle East and North Africa report a similar shift in perceptions of welcome.
This would suggest that the efforts of many college campuses across the United States is more necessary than ever. It is vital to continue to communicate publicly, as in the case at George Mason University, how international students are valuable members of the campus community. But is that enough?
It is a more promising picture from the United Kingdom, where Middle Eastern agents remain broadly positive of the United Kingdom as a welcoming destination – less than 15% of agents believe the UK has become a less welcoming destination in the past twelve months.
WHO’S AFRAID OF WHOM? – PERCEPTIONS ON SAFETY
Whether this reflects evidence of a more strident nationalistic rhetoric or the widespread reporting in India of the murder of two Indian workers in Kansas earlier this year, what is very clear is that certain regions are increasingly concerned about the safety of their students in the United States.
This is in marked contrast to the United Kingdom, where there is little to no evidence of any rising concern about student safety. (Note, this survey was conducted before the horrific bomb attack in Manchester in late May).
CAN I GET IN?-STUDENT VISAS
For international students, the ability to secure a visa or have confidence that they will be welcomed is a key determinant of where they will end up studying. Through 2016, reports came from India of much higher levels of visa rejection for students intending to study in the United States. This has clearly shaken confidence amongst the agent network in India where more half of all agents confirm they believe the visa situation has gotten worse. This in turn drives almost a quarter of those agents to explore alternative destinations for their students. In terms of countries picking up the slack, Canada, Australia and Ireland all appear on an upwards trajectory.
VALUE FOR MONEY – A BREXIT DISCOUNT?
Investment in an international education involves life-changing sums of money for students and their families. One very noticeable trend in this year’s survey is agent perception of increased value for study in the United Kingdom. More than half the agents surveyed across all regions report an improvement in the value for money of the United Kingdom. This is hardly surprising, given the devaluation of sterling against most global currencies since the Brexit referendum held on June 23rd 2016. The continued strength of the US dollar does not appear to have had an overly negative impact on the United States per se, except in that in combination with other factors, it may make the US more expensive relative to other major destinations.