UK leads Web potential to boost international students

Leading British universities are well placed to benefit from the continuing increase in international higher education, according to a just-published analysis of internet searches over the past three years.

A report, Britain’s Higher Education Empire, launched jointly by Google UK and OC&C Strategy Consultants, says there is a significant opportunity for UK universities to claim their share of the international higher education market – estimated to be worth £12 billion (US$19.7 billion) by 2020.

It is based on three academic years of Google’s search data across 50 countries and more than 100 institutions – more than one million rows of data – supplemented by interviews with university managers, academics and organisations including the British Council and Universities UK.

The UK is second only to the United States in its pull for international students, with Britain's 13% share not far behind the US at 17%.

International student searches

Globally, international enrolments are predicted to increase up to 2020 and beyond, at a faster rate than domestic enrolments.

Much of the growth will come from Asian and African students studying outside their home countries, the report says. Each region is predicted to grow by 9% from 2011-20.

Together China and India represented 900,000 students in 2011, predicted to increase to 1.9 million by 2020.

International internet searches for the top 50 UK universities rose by 10% between 2010-11 and 2012-13, compared with an increase of just 1% for domestic searches.

The increase was strong in the Asia-Pacific region (up 17%), followed by Australasia (up 15%) and Africa and the Middle East (each up 10%). The strongest growth over the three years was from South America (up 19%).

Broken down by country, the increase was highest from Oman (32%), Indonesia (30%) and Denmark (29%), followed in descending order by China, Brazil, Chile, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan and the Philippines (up 20% to 27%).

South Africa, Peru, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Australia, Egypt and Bangladesh all exceeded 15% growth.

Searches for the UK’s top five universities have grown at a higher rate than equivalent institutions in both the US and Canada. They scored an increase of 10%, compared with just 5% in the US and 9% in Canada.

Institutions in The Netherlands (up 16%) and Australia (up 12%) recorded the highest rates.

However, much of the potential for education 'exports' will be through online courses, the report predicts, with a growth in numbers from 115,000 in 2011 to 560,000 in 2020, representing a 24% increase in fee income.

'Traditional' inward-bound international students are predicted to rise from 435,000 to 604,000 – up 4% – with fee income up from £4 billion to £7 billion, an increase of 6%.

Characteristics of success

The report claims that universities that are successful in the international higher education market share a number of characteristics, including:
  • • A clearly articulated internationalisation strategy and vision (rather than simply being opportunistic).
  • • An understanding of acceptable risks and compromises, with an entrepreneurial approach to change.
  • • Dedicated international development resources, including a senior academic champion to build understanding and support internally.
  • • A more commercial approach to decision-making, with the ability to respond quickly and decisively to challenges.
  • • A wide variety of strong and flexible partnerships across geographies.
  • • A wider set of capabilities to design and deliver programmes to meet the needs of international students across different geographies and mediums.