Masters interest ‘swinging away from UK’
Data from one of the UK’s major postgraduate recruitment specialists has recorded a decline in interest in masters opportunities in the country among prospective international students.
FindAUniversity has reported that while 51% of prospective international students were searching for UK opportunities in 2022, this year it has dropped down to 30%, with competitor countries such as US, Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands seeing upticks in interest.
The data from October shows that specific audiences fell sharper than others. Indian students, for example, using FindAMasters to find UK masters programs dropped by 80% year-on-year in October, from 59% in 2022 to just 11% in 2023.
The data shows that while interest in the UK has nearly halved in percentage-point terms, the US has nearly doubled.
Previous insights from the company noted that while the Spring 2024 intake is still popular among international students, certain markets – such as India and Nigeria – are showing less interest, which analysts said was possibly due to the upcoming dependents ban for postgraduate taught programs.
However, slightly ‘newer’ international markets like Kenya, Ghana and Pakistan are still interested in Spring starts, FindAMasters said, noting a student cohort “definitely worth reaching”.
The company acknowledged that China is not well-represented in its data.
The latest data also indicates that other big PGT audiences are seeing a “substantial swing” to the US and Europe.
The share of searches on the platform for the UK among Indian students dropped from 59% last year to 11% in 2023, from 81% to 47% among Nigerians and from 61% to 24% among Pakistanis.
On the other hand the 9% of Indian students searching for US masters in 2022 rose to 23% in 2023.
According to FindAUniversity director of Audience & Insight, Mark Bennett, one hypothesis for the data is that the dependent visa changes, as well as increased immigration fees, are already making an impact.
The cost of a student visa increased by £127 on October 4, with a £411 rise in the Immigration Healthcare Surcharge from January 2024, adds an additional cost of £538 per student on a one-year masters.
Bennett noted that as FindAUniversity’s site traffic is stable or increasing year-on-year, the shift “represents a change in what audiences are doing on our platforms”.
FindAUniversity’s Pulse survey, carried out between March and October 2023, found that the percentage of international PGT responses suggesting that the dependent restriction and a possible Graduate Route reduction peaked in September.
While the dependent ban was announced in May, the sector has been successful in pushing back on any changes to the Graduate Route that parts of the UK government had been said to be considering.
Those students searching for a UK masters are now the “remainder who aren’t (as) concerned about this change”, the company said. “It seems that quite a few of the others are looking elsewhere.”
However, Bennett noted that the UK still a third of Share of Search in October – more than twice as much as the next competitor.
“These prospective international PGT students are searching in a different landscape as of October – and they’re searching differently,” Bennett said.
“These are searches, not applications”
“There’s still hope though. These are searches, not applications, which means students haven’t yet made their mind up about study in 2024/25 – and we’ve seen the positive impact the WeAreInternational campaign is having.”
The data shows that over half (52%) of international audiences that are aware of the WeAreInternational campaign feel the UK is a ‘very welcoming’ place to study. For those not aware of the campaign it drops to 35% saying the same – a 17 percentage point difference.
“Of course, for universities outside the UK, these changes could well be a significant opportunity,” Bennett concluded.