UK education top attraction for international STEM students

Monday 02 November 2015

 

Link to report https://ei.britishcouncil.org/educationintelligence/ei-features-stem-2015 

International students studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) are most attracted to the UK because of the quality of education, rather than their UK career prospects, a major new survey has found.

New research by the British Council concluded that undergraduate and postgraduate international STEM students assess the value of their career and research prospects, alongside the quality of the course and the transferable skills they will attain, when deciding on a higher education destination.

International STEM students: Focusing on skills for the future published today, features a survey and analysis of the factors affecting STEM international students’ choice of course and destination country, and the perceived benefits of studying in the UK, US, Australia and Canada.

UK international undergraduate STEM respondents chose the UK overwhelmingly because of its reputation for high-quality education (51%), excellent career prospects (29%), and the presence of friends or relatives (21%).

When the research asked why postgraduate STEM students chose their destination, it found that those studying in the UK chose the country mostly due to its reputation for high-quality education (40%), the fact that a UK qualification offers excellent career opportunities (28%) and that the UK is at forefront of innovation in their subject (23%). 

Commenting on the findings, Gordon Slaven, British Council Head of Higher Education said “It’s great to see that the UK’s excellence in teaching and research in these areas is recognised by STEM students around the world. The fact that the UK continues to attract large numbers of STEM and humanities students means that the UK education experience is contributing to the development of countries around the world, and creating long term connections for the UK in the future.”

The survey also found that more than one third (39%) of postgraduate international STEM students indicated they would look for a job in their destination country after graduation, while others stated they would seek employment in their home countries (29%), continue to study a further degree upon graduation (17%) and seek a job with the intention to continue further study (11%). Fourteen per cent of respondents stated they wanted to stay in academia after graduating with their STEM postgraduate degree.

”What's important about this research is that it compares international student perceptions of four study destinations. It is important to understand not only the motivations of these students, to be able to ensure they have the best chances to fulfil their professional goals, but to examine the drivers that influence their journey. Creating a young workforce with transferable, in-demand skills is what will drive the global economy forward" Slaven added.

When the surveyed students were asked which country offered the best career opportunities, Australia came out on top with 72 per cent of the international STEM students studying in-country concurring, followed by the US with 71 per cent of in-country postgraduates and 61 per cent of Canadian in-country postgraduates. Forty-two per cent of UK international STEM postgraduates said the UK was the best destination for career opportunities.

A higher percentage of both undergraduate and postgraduate students studied abroad to access jobs in their destination country after graduation, but a comparatively small percentage stated they wanted to migrate permanently, indicating many international STEM student aspire to work for the short-term, perhaps to gain experience or save money.

Zainab Malik, Research Director of the British Council’s Education Intelligence service and author of the report, said: "International STEM students seek high-quality education and enhanced career prospects, therefore the most attractive education systems will be those who are best integrated with the innovation economy. Also, our research shows that while many international students want to work overseas, either where they study or in other countries, in the beginning of their careers they are keen to maintain their link with and transfer their knowledge to their home countries in the long-term.”

Notes to Editor

For more information please contact Tim Sowula, Senior Press Officer, British Council on 0207 389 4871 or tim.sowula@britishcouncil.org 

For information for international students about study in the UK, and to search courses and scholarships, visit www.educationuk.org

Background figures:

According to the 2013/14 HESA Student Record [most recent for which data is available], the number of student studying STEM subject areas by level of study and domicile were: 

 

Level of Study

 

 

Domicile

Postgraduate

Undergraduate

Total

UK

139,170

706,055

845,220

Other EU

19,880

32,200

52,080

Non-EU

53,870

56,470

110,340

Total

212,920

794,725

1,007,640

STEM subject areas as classified by HESA are: Medicine and dentistry; Subjects allied to medicine; Biological sciences; Veterinary science; Agriculture and related subjects; Physical sciences; Mathematical sciences; Computer science; Engineering and technology; Architecture, building and planning

About the research:

The British Council surveyed current international students studying in the UK, US, Canada and Australia in January 2015 who were non-citizens of the country they were studying in. A total of 1,348 responses were collected: 200 from Canada, 200 from Australia, 400 from the US and 548 from the UK. The survey was administered online with the cooperation of the National Union of Students and SSI Market Research.

Of the international students enrolled in STEM subjects, 45 per cent (600 respondents) were postgraduates and 55 per cent (748 respondents) of which were undergraduates. Information about the respondents’ study destinations, course areas and gender distribution can be found in the Appendix of the report.

Key findings:

·         Undergraduate and postgraduate international STEM students assess the value of their career and research prospects, alongside the quality of the course and the transferable skills they will attain, when deciding on a higher education destination

·         Respondents, particularly engineering students, prioritised gaining globally useful skills and access to research opportunities.

·         A higher percentage of both undergraduate and postgraduate students studied abroad to access jobs in their destination country after graduation, but a comparatively small percentage stated they wanted to migrate permanently, indicating many international STEM student aspire to work for the short-term, perhaps to gain experience or save money.

·         Neither students’ motivations for studying their STEM course overseas nor their intentions post-graduation differed significantly by gender

·         International STEM students most value the UK’s high quality of education, and this drives enrolments.

·         Students valued the US as a destination for a myriad of reasons: high-quality education that imparts globally valuable skills, local job opportunities and affordability.

·         Students in Canada were drawn to its post study work options and quality of life.

·         Undergraduates in Australia were drawn to its quality of life while postgraduates prioritised this alongside its high-quality education that would increase career prospects globally

·         International STEM students are motivated by the outcomes of their education and want the highest-quality education that will allow them to gain skills and access careers globally; the destinations with supportive policies in place will continue to benefit from the recruitment of this group of talented students.

Global trends in international STEM mobility

·         In the UK, while undergraduate international STEM enrolments increased, postgraduate enrolments fell between 2010 and 2013, but have increased in 2014. The major driver of this decrease was that fewer students from South Asia chose to study in the UK for some subjects, specifically computer science: the number of Indian postgraduates in this course has dropped 77 per cent since its high in 2009-2010.

·         International STEM enrolments have seen growth in the US and have compensated for a slowdown in domestic enrolments. Most of the growth in US STEM enrolments has been from Saudi Arabia, China, Brazil and India.

·         Australian international STEM enrolments hit a low point in 2006 but have risen slowly since then, inclusive of a slowdown between 2009 and 2012 driven by falling international enrolments in information technology courses. This period of time coincides with Australia imposing stricter regulations, and then clarifying them, on international students.

·         Canada has seen growth in its international STEM enrolments and has organised a new Federal Skilled Workers Program to attract workers in STEM and finance.

Trends in four major markets for international STEM students, the US, the UK, Canada and Australia, diverged in past years, with the UK and Australia, which tightened visa regimes, seeing a fall or plateau in total enrolments in STEM to 2013 while Canada saw continuous growth of 60 per cent in international STEM enrolments from 2008 to 2012, compared with a 51 per cent increase overall in the number of international enrolments.

The US, meanwhile, continues to attract high numbers of international STEM students, with the population making up around 40 per cent of the overall international student population in 2013 [Chang, Li, International Student Mobility Trends 2014: The Upward Momentum of STEM Fields, World Education Services,

http://wenr.wes.org/2014/03/international-student-mobility-trends-2014-the-upward-momentum-of-stem-fields/, March 2014] 

The House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee Report states that UK universities are strategically committed to STEM and to internationalisation as much for the benefit of UK students having a diverse campus and an opportunity to study abroad as for receiving overseas students. Further, the loss of international students, especially in STEM postgraduate courses, could have a severe negative impact on the ability of UK universities to conduct and produce research leading to consequences not only with regards to administering STEM courses but also involving the UK’s ability to innovate nationally. [Higher Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee Report, 2nd session, 2012-13, http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201213/ldselect/ldsctech/37/37.pdf, July 2012.]

About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We create international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and build trust between them worldwide.

We work in more than 100 countries and our 8,000 staff – including 2,000 teachers – work with thousands of professionals and policy makers and millions of young people every year by teaching English, sharing the arts and delivering education and society programmes.

We are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter. A core publicly-funded grant provides 20 per cent of our turnover which last year was £864 million. The rest of our revenues are earned from services which customers around the world pay for, such as English classes and taking UK examinations, and also through education and development contracts and from partnerships with public and private organisations. All our work is in pursuit of our charitable purpose and supports prosperity and security for the UK and globally.

For more information, please visit: www.britishcouncil.org. You can also keep in touch with the British Council through http://twitter.com/britishcouncil and http://blog.britishcouncil.org/.