Vaccine rollout makes UK a more attractive study location

The United Kingdom’s successful rollout of COVID-19 vaccines is making the country more attractive to international students, according to new global research.

Nearly one in five (17%) prospective international students interested in studying in the UK think it is the best country in the world in terms of distributing the vaccine to its population.

Almost half (47%) of students think the UK is becoming a more attractive destination to international students as a result of its vaccine distribution – which is more complete than in countries that are key competitors for international students, such as the United States, Canada, Australia and Germany – according to the research from Quacquarelli Symonds, the higher education think-tank and compilers of the QS World University Rankings.

Director of Marketing at QS Paul Raybould said: “Education is one of the UK’s greatest exports, and it’s therefore extremely encouraging to see that the successful vaccination rollout is having a positive impact on student perceptions.

“The sector must capitalise on this as a key opportunity to help expand international student recruitment and strengthen the UK’s position as a global study destination.”

The data comes from QS’ annual International Student Survey (ISS), published on 26 April.

The survey, now in its ninth year, is the world’s largest survey of pre-enrolled international and EU students looking to study outside of their home country, this year speaking to a record 105,083 prospective students from around the world – of whom 48,722 said they were interested in studying in the UK.

The research comes as the UK’s vaccination roll-out continues with over 33.7 million people having now received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, as of 26 April, and 12.6 million having received their second dose.

‘Leverage’ positive perceptions

One of the key recommendations within the report is that the higher education sector leverages the positive perceptions of the UK – that have been enhanced by the vaccine rollout – to aid international student recruitment efforts for the start of the next academic year.

The report also reveals students’ priorities with regard to teaching delivery and student support services, as well as wider perceptions of the UK as a study destination. Crucially, the report shares key insights on the perceptions of students from key priority markets identified in the UK government’s updated International Education Strategy published in the autumn, such as Vietnam, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.

Other key findings from the ISS include:

• The introduction of the COVID-19 vaccine has made nearly a fifth (19%) of prospective international students bring forward their plans to study abroad, while 68% said they would take the vaccine if it was offered to them.

• When choosing a study destination, over half (52%) of prospective international students think the most important factor is how welcoming a destination is.

• Nearly two-thirds (58%) of all prospective students think the UK is becoming more welcoming to international students, which is higher than key competitors including Germany, Canada, Australia and the US.

• Over half (52%) of current international students in the UK believe their university has been either ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ effective in delivering online teaching throughout the pandemic.

• Two-thirds (66%) of prospective international students would rather quarantine in student halls of residence than in a hotel when arriving in the UK for their studies.

• Just under a third (29%) of international students would be uncomfortable asking their university for support with their mental health at this time.

Nick Hillman, author of the ISS report foreword and director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said: “The results of this year’s QS International Student Survey are compelling. The survey is large, covers people from pretty much the whole world and includes qualitative information alongside the hard numbers. It is also more revealing than ever, given the enormous changes that have beset staff, students and institutions in recent months.

“One stand-out finding is the huge importance international students place on access to careers support. It is an enormous step to travel to another country to study, but people do it often in order to help them secure a fulfilling career afterwards. We must do all we can to help them achieve that ambition.”

Director of Universities UK International (UUKi), Vivienne Stern, said: “Whilst the sector has remained resilient over the course of a difficult year, to help the UK maintain its position as a global study destination it is vital that the concerns and priorities of international students help to guide the sector as we continue to navigate the challenges of both COVID-19 and Brexit.

“By working together, and being led by the data, government and the sector have an exciting opportunity to help support recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and, as we look to the future, drive growth in new markets.”