When the government decided against excluding international students from immigration targets through the Higher Education and Research Act, the higher education sector reacted with dismay. Now we are hearing that the Conservative manifesto commitment to cut net migration to tens of thousands is to be repeated. Responsibility for making international students and staff feel welcome in the UK must therefore fall to universities themselves.
The education select committee recently reported that the number of EU undergraduates had dropped by 7.4% over the past year, and this is likely to continue amid Brexit uncertainty. This was confirmed by Hobsons’ research last year, which found that 36% of prospective international students said they would be less likely to study in the UK after the Brexit vote.
Our research also showed that sector-wide publicity campaigns aimed at promoting UK universities as welcoming destinations such as #WeAreInternational and #LondonIsOpen were having a measurably positive impact – 84% of respondents said these campaigns had persuaded them that the UK was welcoming. It’s in the country’s interest as well – according to Universities UK, international students generated some £11bn for our economy in 2016.
There are many other factors besides rankings that influence international students’ perceptions of quality. Highlighting teaching quality, staff qualifications and student satisfaction in all communications with prospective international students during their enquiry and application journey can have a significant impact.
Our research found that 80% of prospective international students considering the UK would choose excellent teaching quality over a high-ranking university. So lower-ranked institutions may be able to increase their appeal by showcasing their track record in teaching quality and highlighting their welcoming culture.
Do you think EU students will continue to come? What about EU lecturers and support staff? A very worrying time ahead for them and their employers. Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~Tamsin
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