Prospective student trends 1 year on from Brexit

The following blog by Aaron Porter, Director of Insights, Hotcourses Group, was originally written for Research Fortnight.

The UK’s vote a year ago to leave the European Union has heralded one of the most uncertain political periods in the UK, perhaps since 1945.

While negotiations over the post EU settlement are ongoing, the higher education sector is gearing up for a potentially significant shift.

Nor was the referendum vote the only major global political event of the past year. The election and subsequent policy announcements of President Donald Trump in the United States have been significant too, with the implications starting to be felt both in the US and beyond.

Given the greater uncertainty for international student mobility from these changes, the Hotcourses Group launched an Insights Tool last year which allows users to track in real time how prospective students research courses and universities in the UK and internationally. In 2016 this tool covered 36 million prospective international students, and, based on students’ online searches, their choices about destinations, courses, institutions and level of study.

It found that both the United States, and the United Kingdom have seen decreases in their share of international students researching study destinations over the past 12 months — the US dropping from 35.7% to 32% and the UK from 28% to 25.8%.

But perhaps the most striking change over the past 12 months has been the monumental increase in interest in Canada, with its share increasing from 4.9% to 10.4%.

Early signs are that steps taken by the Trudeau government in Canada, including improving the entitlement for students to remain in Canada post-study and making serious overtures to many students who would have previously considered the US, are paying dividends.

Although the UK has seen a marginal decline in global demand, it is not as bad as many had feared and appears to have been cushioned by the fall in demand for the US. In fact, there are a number of Middle Eastern countries from which the UK has seen an increase in international student interest, almost certainly exacerbated by the proposed Trump travel ban. So while there are some markets — notably India — where the UK continues to suffer, there are also emerging opportunities on the horizon.

The dip in demand may have been small for the UK globally, but it is much more pronounced from Europe, with Brexit beginning to bite.

Share of interest from European students has fallen by six percentage points for the UK, from 36.9% to 30.9%. (The US has seen a similar drop, from 24.3% to 18.6%).

The biggest beneficiary here is unquestionably the Republic of Ireland which has seen its share of interest increase from 11.4% to 20.9%.

The UK is still by far and away the most researched study destination for European students, but the marked drop in just one year will raise some concerns for the future.

And although the European picture as a whole demonstrates a notable drop for the UK, the picture varies markedly from country to country, with steep drops in interest from Spain and Germany while interest from France actually increased by a percentage point.

Interestingly, while both undergraduate and postgraduate international interest in the US decreased, the drop in demand for the UK was at postgraduate level.

The early signs are that the election of Trump is having a bigger impact on the global movement of international students, and is, to some degree, helping to contain the impact Brexit is having on the UK. The next stage will be to track the correlation between changes to student research and what happens to applications and then enrolment.

The decline in interest in studying in the US offers clear opportunities, which so far only Canada seems to have seized.

To read the report in full click here. The data in this report is from the Hotcourses Insights Tool, contact insights@hotcoursesgroup.com for more information.

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