International students apply to record number of global destinations

International students are applying to more institutions and countries than ever before, with a shift towards non-traditional destinations and more affordable options, a new agent survey has found.

The report, published by INTO University Partnerships, a global education partnering organisation on May 27, “signals a major shift in student behaviour and the emergence of new study-abroad destinations,” said Tom Hands, INTO chief recruitment officer for university partnerships.

"The competition for universities in top study-abroad markets to attract overseas talent has become even tougher,” he added.

Conducted in March 2024, the report surveyed 1,240 agents across 66 countries, finding an “intensely competitive” landscape for overseas recruitment, with 87% of agents noting an increase in the number of institutions students applied to this year.

As policies restricting international student flows take hold in the UK, Canada and Australia, students, and the agents counselling them, are increasingly hedging their bets and applying to an increasing number of potential destination countries, according to John Sykes INTO CEO.

With over 11% of agents having submitted applications to 100+ universities last year, the survey warned of rising pressure on agencies to become multi-destination specialists, and that increased applications will “ultimately result in lower rates of conversion and enrolment”.

The findings highlighted the financial burden of studying abroad on students and their families, and the rising importance of affordability shaping student decisions, with agents across Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa observing its growing influence.

Accordingly, the survey showed the attractiveness of destinations outside the ‘Big Four’, with European and Asian countries capturing greater interest.

Notably, Germany and Ireland were the most cited European destinations by agents from South Asia.

Chinese agents noted considerable interest in other Asian destinations, particularly in Southeast Asia, with rising demand for localised pathway provision and geographic and cultural proximity of study destinations.

Agents across Asia noted a similar trend of students opting to stay within the region, party due to the reduced cost of staying closer to home.

In addition to affordability, career opportunities continue to grow as an important consideration for international students, with 87% of agents surveyed highlighting it as an important factor, 5% more than the previous year.

“More than ever, students and parents are looking for a strong return on their investment, and careers have become a major consideration for study abroad decision making.

“Universities are challenged to provide tailored employment support to students and alumni in order to attract talent from across the globe in the face of very stiff competition,” said Hands.

These findings are in line with QS’s International Graduate Outcomes report published in May 2024, which revealed that 53% of surveyed UK graduates wanted to see greater career support and professional placements.

Agent training and regulation have become increasingly prominent in recent years, with recruitment practices receiving notable scrutiny from the UK, Canadian and Australian governments.

National and global accreditation frameworks have been established including North America’s AIRC, the legislative approach in Australia, ICEF’s Global Accreditation and the UK’s Agent Quality Framework , to name a few.

Of those sending to the UK, nearly 80% of agents had received some form of training from the British Council, a partner in the AQF.

By contrast, only 17% of those sending to the US have received any training or certification, the survey revealed.

“If you snooze, you lose”, noted the report, which highlighted speed of response as a consistent frustration of agent survey satisfaction metrics, with 99% citing timeliness as an important factor, above application response time, choice of degree program and incentive package.

"Collected from The PIE News"