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Student motivations reveal new paths to build sustainable internationalisation strategy

Representing the opinions  of over  43 000 potential international students,  a new survey conducted by Hobsons for the fourth year in a row, examines the motivations of international students, and use of social media tools, in relation to their choice of studying abroad. Characteristics of an increasingly globally mobile student body have undergone significant changes and universities face new challenges on multiple fronts.  To enlighten future oriented and evidence based internationalisation strategies, the report seeks to paint a comprehensive picture of evolving student expectations across 175 countries.  In the sample the largest group of students were from Asia with 46%, followed by Africa (20%), Europe (15%), Americas (12%), and Oceania (7%).

When looking at what motivates students to pursue studies abroad, research findings show:

  • The majority of students (89%) base their choice of study on their personal interest.  
  • A key factor in the decision-making, when choosing a university and country, are the anticipated career prospects. 40% of students stated to base their choice of country on where there is high demand for employees and 38% on the expected earnings in the industry respective to their field of study.
  • Almost half of the surveyed students stated that migration was an important aspect of their plans for studying abroad. Thus, the perceived prospects of attaining work rights, post-graduation, and immigration policy supporting students in this endeavour weighed significantly. A rather large proportion of students (32%) had ambitions to temporarily remain and work in their destination country, with 15% committed to permanently migrate.
  • A clear majority of students (81%) agree that a university best prepares them for a career. However 43% indicate they would consider not attending university due to too high costs, and 25% were open to considering alternative forms of education if there was a better way to attain a qualification.
  • Despite an increasing pull and push for internationalised and mobile students, almost half of the surveyed students stated that they would prefer to stay in their home country under the condition that the quality of education would match that abroad.
  • Of prospective students 71% were using social media at some stage when researching universities.  

From these findings the report draws conclusions and recommendations for shaping a future oriented internationalisation strategy. A majority of universities are seen to spend their budgets and efforts on competing with each other in limited core markets as South Asia, China and Europe. This leaves vast geographical and student segments under-served, and a more diversified approach is needed. With students ready to preference their national environment if education quality was up to standard, and a variety of traditional source countries increasing the attractiveness of their domestic education, extending a view to new markets could be sustainable . Still convinced that universities prepare them best for careers,  but ready to consider alternatives, students tightly linking their expectations of an international study experience  to employment outcomes- ‘’expecting a return on investments’’.

The capacities of universities to ’produce’ work ready graduates linking programmes to local industries, and countries’ openness to embrace students temporarily or long term into their labour markets post-study, is a driving factor in the market share of international students held and ‘top destinations’ sought out. An intelligent student marketing strategy is seen to incorporate new media channels and be driven by student profiling that centres on real needs and wants, rather than intuition. 

International Student Survey 2016 - Creating a Sustainable International Education Sector: A Manifesto for Intelligence-Led Marketing and Recruitment of International Students