Friday 30 September 2011

The demand for UK education by overseas students will rise over the next four years, despite increased global competition, according to a new series of reports published by the British Council.

British universities are likely to maintain their competitive edge as other countries seek to enlarge their international student intakes.

UK university ‘brands’ are regarded as more prestigious and are better known that those in Australia and all but the top Ivy League institutions in the US, according to a new series of reports conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit for the British Council. The research focuses on international student mobility between the UK, US, Nigeria, China, India and Malaysia. The reports titled "Students in motion: The outlook for international student mobility to the UK", predicted:

  • A growth of Malaysian students to the UK by 4% from 2011 to 2015
  • A growth of Indian students to the UK by 18% from 2011 to 2015
  • A growth in Chinese students by 9% from 2011 to 2015
  • A growth in Nigerian students by 5% from 2011 to 2015
  • A growth of US students to the UK by 3% from 2011 to 2015.

The research is based on a robust econometric model to establish the primary determinants driving the international students’ choice of destination for study. Decelerated economic growth in the countries sending students to study abroad will affect growth in domestic enrolments in higher education and it will also affect families’ disposable income. Bilateral trade was found to be significant across all countries studied in the research (US, Nigeria, China, India and Malaysia). It highlights the relevance of the host country to the domestic economy and it is a good proxy for geographical, historical and commercial relationship between two countries. Any increase in trade between the UK and the respective sending country leads to a greater numbers of students from the respective country choosing the UK as a study destination.

Non-economic, i.e. non-quantifiable factors, such as immigration restrictions and safety reputation were not part of this study, hence their influence was impossible to quantify. However, evidence from Australia suggests that students from India in particular are sensitive to these factors. Commencement data on Indian students in Australian education, as reported by AEI in June 2010 was over 50% down compared to 2009.

Commenting on the reports, Dr Jo Beall, director of Education and Society for the British Council, said "In spite of the recent global economic uncertainty, higher education is seen almost universally as a key driver towards growth, and there is a huge demand for the opportunities a quality higher education can provide. International students at tertiary level enrolled worldwide has increased by 77% since 2000. There are almost 3.7 million students enrolled outside their country of citizenship in 2009. What these reports have shown is that there will continue to be a demand for a British higher education, so it’s important that the UK can capitalise on our higher education sector to build stronger and long-lasting links with aspirational individuals and institutions overseas, for our mutual benefit".

Country specific insights conclude:

In China - tuition fees play a more prominent role. This may be partly explained in that the exchange rate is managed and is not market set. If China were to liberalise their exchange rate, i.e. allow the Chinese currency to appreciate, this would change the forecast. However, although UK living costs are perceived as high, the value for money and ease of entry to good quality courses is difficult for competitors to match.

In Malaysia – the country’s universities are expanding but cannot meet demand. The UK is widely considered as the most prestigious destination for Malaysian students. The UK’s university brands are more highly regarded than Australia’s or even than most of those in the US. Australia is often seen as a money saving destination. The majority of students interviewed said they believed that prospective employers would prefer UK degrees to Australian or US qualifications. Employers tend to be more familiar with the names of UK universities than US ones. The UK is perceived as more multicultural and to have a broader global outlook than Australia or the US.

In India – the number of students travelling to the UK for higher education over 2004-2010 increased exponentially – total growth over this period was 142%. Demand for domestic higher education will continue to outstrip supply. The UK has been and will almost certainly remain, highly regarded among Indians considering overseas study. Other important social and psychological considerations are the perception that UK culture is relatively "immigrant friendly" and the quality of life in the UK is good, and that the UK and London in particular is an excellent place to launch an international career.

For India and Malaysia the exchange rate and cost of living in UK were found to be more significant than for students from other countries. Therefore stipends provided against the cost of living would have greatest impact in these countries in terms of attracting prospective students.

In Nigeria – significant challenges compromise the higher education sector’s ability to meet the government’s ambitious targets. The report reveals that over 40% of Nigerians passed domestic university entrance exams in 2010, but only 10% could be accommodated. The number of students in higher education in the UK grew by 115% between 2004 and 2010 and by 16% between 2008 and 2009.  However, demand is forecast to plateau form 2012 to 2015, remaining at just under 17,000. This forecast took into account a fall in the value of Nigerian currency in relation to sterling.

USA – Economic pressures make a shorter length of study in the UK more attractive. Elite institutions are seen as less expensive in the UK than US. However, the UK was seen as weak from a value-for-money standpoint. This was partly due to the ‘self-taught’ aspect of many of the courses. The authors suggest that key marketing points for UK education should be related to shorter time commitment required and European credentials gained. Americans are increasingly open to study-abroad options but having to navigate loan and grant systems in the US and an increasingly restrictive UK visa system makes the UK a challenging destination.
Back to press releases

STUDENTS IN MOTION reports are available for purchase via the Education Intelligence website at:

Review copies of the STUDENTS IN MOTION reports (not for distribution) are available on request.

For media inquiries, please contact Anna Esaki-Smith (Hong Kong) at or (852) 2913-5140 or

Tim Sowula (London) at or +44207 389 4871


Notes to Editor

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. We create international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and build trust between them worldwide. We work in over 100 countries in the arts, education and English and in 2010/11 we engaged face to face with 30 million people and reached 578 million. We have 6,800 staff worldwide. Our total turnover in 2010/11 was £693 million, of which our grant-in-aid from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was £190 million. The remainder was generated through trading activities such as English language teaching. For every £1 of taxpayer money invested we earn £2.65 in additional income. For more information, please visit: