Surge in international students: Competition rises amid economic hurdles, diverse preferences

In 2023, there’s a 10-percentage point increase in counselors that noted a decrease in study abroad interest, likely influenced by global inflation impacting affordability.

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The past year has seen a surge in international student numbers, accompanied by intensified competition among both students and educational markets. The ApplyBoard Recruitment Partner (RP) Pulse Survey, gathering over 750 responses from counselors in more than 50 countries, provides crucial insights into this evolving landscape.

One notable trend is the increased scrutiny of international study costs amid global economic challenges. In 2022, over half of the counselors observed a significant rise in prospective international students, partly driven by countries reopening, like Australia, in late 2021.

However, in 2023, there’s a 10 percent increase in counselors that noted a decrease in study abroad interest, likely influenced by global inflation impacting affordability.

Canada continues to be perceived as an affordable study destination, though this view has slightly declined since 2022. Other popular destinations like the US, Australia, Ireland, and the United Kingdom are also considered affordable by many, but this perception is waning. This change underscores the growing concern about the financial feasibility of studying abroad.

Rising competition from non-Anglophone countries

Increased competition from non-Anglophone countries is also reshaping student preferences. Germany and Chile have seen record numbers, and with China’s easing COVID policies, it’s poised to re-emerge as a top choice. This diversification of destination markets signifies a shift in the global education landscape.

The survey also highlights the importance of financial readiness, with Australia recently adjusting its financial requirements for international students. This move, though initially daunting, is aimed at ensuring students are better prepared economically, potentially reducing stress and dissatisfaction.

Institutions and countries have the opportunity to foster trust and engagement by emphasizing the long-term benefits of international study, like higher earnings and career prospects. Highlighting unique program offerings and work-integrated learning opportunities can further attract students.

Affordability still a top concern among students

Affordability remains the primary concern for students and counselors, with 86 percent emphasizing it as the top factor in choosing a study destination. This is followed by opportunities for work during study and post-graduation, reflecting the significant role of employability in decision-making.

Another crucial aspect is the pathway to permanent residency, with 63 percent of participants considering it important. Countries and institutions should clearly articulate these opportunities, contributing to a robust workforce and fostering innovation and inclusion.

The report said, “But while most destinations and institutions promote post-graduation work opportunities, one of the most common causes for a visa refusal is a student’s failure to convince government officers that they intend to return to their home country after graduation.

“Better alignment here would be a win for all: for students, it would mean clearer application guidelines without a need to lie about their career aspirations; for institutions and communities, it would mean increased quality of applications and inflows.”

Visa processing times and approval rates also remain key concerns, although there’s been a notable improvement in this area. The US and Canada, for instance, have seen shorter processing times and better approval rates, positively impacting student confidence.

Canada stands out for its post-graduation work opportunities, followed by Australia and the UK. Ireland, in particular, has seen an improvement in this regard, reflecting its growing appeal as a study destination.

The RP Pulse Survey reveals that while international study interest remains high, students increasingly prioritize affordability and career-oriented programs. Institutions should focus on financial aid, unique learning opportunities, and clear pathways to employment and residency. As non-Anglophone markets rise in popularity, Anglophone countries must adapt to maintain their appeal. 

To foster ongoing engagement with international students, Applyboard suggests that academic institutions consider these strategies:

“This year’s survey results show that while interest in international study remains strong, students are placing a higher value on factors like affordability and programs that teach career-related skills. Highlight scholarships or financial aid open to international students or unique work-integrated learning opportunities your institution offers. 

“When connecting with future students, also speak about how international education can lead to more prestigious and in-demand career paths. As non-Anglophone destination markets grow in popularity, current top destination markets may need to increase communications efforts and streamline intake processes to continue to grow international student applications.

“Destination markets that offer transparency about current costs of living while also providing robust post-graduation work opportunities will benefit from attracting—and retaining—top global talent.”

Transparent communication about living costs and strong post-graduation opportunities will be key to attracting global talent. The upcoming Student Pulse Survey and the next RP Pulse Survey in 2024 will continue to provide valuable insights into these dynamics.

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