Subject reputation key to postgrad institution choice

Subject-specific reputation, followed by overall institutional reputation, is the key priority for prospective postgraduates across the world when deciding on a destination institution, according to a new survey.

It is the leading priority in five of the eleven markets profiled in the annual QS World Grad School Tour Applicant Survey report – published by QS or Quacquarelli Symonds – which examines the motivations and priorities of the world’s prospective postgraduates.

The desire to attain qualifications that are recognised across the world remains the primary influencer when choosing a country in which to study. However, provision of financial assistance is also of high importance, and ranks a close second as a priority, the report says.

This year the report also focuses on the specific concerns and preferred destinations of international applicants from emerging markets.

“While China, India and South Korea still account for more than a quarter of all international student enrolments, universities worldwide are increasingly seeking to diversify their international intakes – keen to avoid becoming overly dependent on too few sending nations, and to respond to growing demand from other parts of the world,” the report says.

“Emerging economies with burgeoning young populations, a lag in domestic provision, and often with national scholarship schemes to support international study, are increasingly being bumped up the priority list for recruitment drives.”

Nigeria, Indonesia, Brazil and Turkey are regular contenders in lists of next major source countries for international recruitment, the report says. The report considers these four markets, plus Mexico, Colombia, Philippines, Ghana, Kenya, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Survey responses from students in India and China are also included for comparative purposes.

When choosing an institution, prospective postgraduates in the featured Latin American nations are more likely to prioritise subject-specific reputation than overall institution reputation, as are those in Indonesia and Turkey, the report says. “The reverse is true of applicants in the profiled African countries, as well as Bangladesh and Pakistan.”

When choosing a study destination country, the most cited factor overall is ‘international recognition of qualifications’, followed by availability of scholarships and financial aid.

But Latin American applicants are particularly likely to prioritise cultural and lifestyle factors. Some 82% of Brazilian respondents, 71% of Mexicans and 67% of Colombians cite ‘cultural interest and lifestyle’ as a key factor when choosing a study destination country – more than in any of the other profiled emerging markets. The next closest are the Philippines (64%) and Turkey (63%), according to the report.

One interesting finding is that overall female applicants are “significantly more likely to identify cultural interest and lifestyle as a key consideration” when choosing a study destination country (57% versus 49%).

There is also a stronger tendency for PhD applicants to prioritise the availability of financial aid (63%, compared to 57% of masters applicants).

Popular study destinations

Though the United States and United Kingdom remain the most popular study destinations overall – with the UK leading student preferences in Indonesia – Germany is the most prominent of several alternative destinations referenced by surveyed students. It is the most popular potential study destination among those in both Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Australia and Canada remain consistently popular, with Canada preferred over the UK by students in Nigeria, Ghana and Bangladesh.

Turkish applicants show some preferences that are consistent with European applicants, and some that are consistent with Asian ones. For example, their motivations for pursuing postgraduate study are consistent with applicants from the Asia-Pacific region, but are closer to European respondents when citing factors that influence their choice of destination and institution.

The desire to progress an existing career remains the most-cited motivation overall for seeking a masters degree, as the top motivation for students in seven of the eleven profiled markets, the report says.

But applicants from Bangladesh and Pakistan are notable exceptions, with a stronger focus on progressing to a higher-level qualification such as a PhD. They are also notably less likely to express an intention to stay on to work in their chosen study destination than their peers from India. They are also less likely to say they want to study in the US or UK, instead favouring Germany and Australia, the report says.

The desire to ‘progress to a higher-level qualification (for example, a PhD)’ is the second most common motivation for masters applicants overall, followed by the drive to ‘improve my employment prospects’.

For PhD applicants overall, the leading incentive is – unsurprisingly – to pursue a career in academia, the report says. Progression on an existing career path is the second most common primary stimulus for pursuing a PhD, followed by personal interest.

The report is based on responses to the QS World Grad School Tour Applicant Survey between June 2014 and June 2016. A total of 15,746 responses were collected during this period, of which 2,096 came from the 11 profiled emerging markets. All survey respondents were in the process of applying for a postgraduate degree, with a focus on international study.

Laura Bridgestock, editor of the report and of, said: “At a time when universities and nations are prioritising strategies to retain or improve their share of international students, we wanted to focus on understanding prospective students in the next set of major source countries.

“Focusing on these emerging markets could be particularly important for both the US and the UK – particularly in the wake of this year’s political events – if they are to maintain their places as the world’s leading study destinations.”

According to QS, it aims to provide higher education policy-makers, university marketing professionals and education experts with insight into student demographics that will have an increasingly significant impact on student mobility over the coming decades.