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Universities must listen to what international students think about value for money

  • 29 November 2017
  • By Paul Raybould

This guest blog comes from Paul Raybould, Marketing Director at QS Enrolment Solutions

As HEPI’s latest report on research funding showed, international students provide a vital source of research funding. On average, over the duration of their degree, each non-EU student contributes over £8,000 to UK research. With international student numbers under threat by strategic challenges, this is not guaranteed to continue in the future at the same level.

One solution to the problem of the underfunding of research that has been proposed is a conscious effort to increase the number of international students. It is good news, then, that the Home Secretary appears to be recognising the value of international students and is leading a cabinet push urging the removal of students from net migration data. With this in mind, it has never been more important to listen to what international students think about what UK universities offer, particularly when it comes to value for money.

Through QS Enrolments Solutions’ (formerly Hobsons Solutions) survey of international students, we have gathered a wealth of information on the interests and behaviours of international students. With perceptions of value playing an important role in the decision-making process, as consistently shown in our annual International Student Survey, we have explored how favourably international students perceive UK tuition fees, how the UK compares against other major study destinations, and how value for money perceptions differ across different groups of international students.

Students are increasingly demanding better value for money from their tuition fees. The HEPI / HEA 2017 Student Academic Experience Survey found that there are now almost as many students (34 per cent) who feel they receive poor value for money as there are who believe they receive good value (35 per cent).

It is good news, then, that our findings show that the UK does enjoy a generally favourable perception of the value of tuition fees among international students. Our research found that 59 per cent of international students considering or studying in the UK say tuition fees in the country are good or very good value for money. Just 16 per cent say UK tuition fees are poor or very poor value for money.

The UK is the second most popular destination for international students in the world, attracting over 10 per cent of all international students in 2013. However, with Brexit and Trump altering the landscape of higher education, the UK’s share of the international student market is threatened by the value for money that other destination countries offer. Our survey found that Germany and Canada are perceived as offering good or better value for money, and therefore pose a significant challenge to UK international student recruitment.


Our survey also explored what additional benefits universities considering higher international student tuition fees would need to offer to assure prospective students they offer good value for money. Like HEPI / HEA’s Student Academic Experience Survey, we found that teaching quality seemed to be a major driver of value. Seventy-eight per cent said better qualified staff would be something they would pay more for. Graduate employment is also high on the agenda of international students, with 74 per cent saying that high graduate employment ratings would be worth a higher fee.

Our previous research shows us there is much that universities can do to appeal to international students by demonstrating the strength of their offer through illustrating student satisfaction levels, teaching quality and how welcoming they are. Whilst we are assessing what the sector can do to market themselves in this challenging and rapidly changing time, it is also worth considering what international students think about the new modes of study that the UK offer.

The Government are presenting two-year degrees as a flexible mode of study to meet students’ diverse needs. However, our research suggests that there is a remarkably low level of understanding among prospective and current international students about their value for money. Only 26 per cent said they would be willing to pay more each year for such a programme, despite the fact that in most cases the student will attain the exact same degree in a shorter period of time. Most remarkably, more than half of the students we surveyed (52%) said they would expect annual tuition fees for a two-year programme to be lower than for an equivalent three-year degree, despite the fact that a two-year degree would require more teaching hours per year.

If more universities are to offer these accelerated degrees, it is vital that the sector thinks carefully about how to explain them with clarity and in a way that makes their value clear to international students. As HEFCE has highlighted, raising awareness and countering negative perceptions is vital. There needs to be a focus on the equivalence of such degrees with three-year programmes, and marketers might be wise to heavily emphasise that.

International students contribute hugely to the sector – financially, academically and culturally. With a research funding deficit affecting the sector, universities could invest more in recruiting international students to fill the gap. With the global market changing and what universities can offer developing, the sector needs to understand what international students think about value for money to ensure that we are still providing an attractive and competitive offer. Once we develop this understanding, we must ensure that prospective international students are provided with the best tools and information to inform their decision-making. At QS Enrolment Solutions, we will continue to play our part in providing insights and solutions to support the sector.

Survey Information

QS Enrolment Solutions (formerly Hobsons Solutions) conducted an online survey of international students considering or already studying in three major study destinations: the UK, Australia and New Zealand. The survey was conducted between 21 September and 12 October 2017 and 2,731 qualifying responses were received across all destinations – a response rate of 9.2%.

1 comment

  1. Imran Akhtar says:

    My PhD thesis investigated the issue of international student recruitment across 100 UK HEIs. Clearly the Russell Group HEIs (individually and collectively) are doing better than any other Group/HEIs. Take Birmingham and Nottingham and few others for example who are proactively heading abroad to make their presence known. There are some emerging players in the market, like Coventry. I will be interested in collaboration to take my research and compare the international student numbers at the UK HEIs with the countries mentioned above and see how the HEIs in these countries compare with the UK HEIs when it comes to international student recruitment.

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