UK Students Going Abroad in the Quest for Best Value

By Li Chang, WES Research & Advisory Services

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Value for money is one of the central factors influencing consumer choice, and higher education is no exception, especially when the cost of studying for a university degree rises at levels well above the rate of inflation. The global financial crisis has had a significant impact on the UK economy, prompting a raft of belt-tightening initiatives by the government, including changes to higher education funding policies and increases in tuition fees for undergraduate study. The financial crisis has also negatively impacted employment prospects for recent graduates. The net effect is a trend towards larger numbers of British students looking abroad for study opportunities.

At World Education Services (WES), we have seen a surge in education-related applications for credential evaluation from the UK since 2008 (Figure 1). In predicting application volume to U.S. universities, we assess the number of education-related credential evaluation applications from addresses in a particular country in the second half of the year (Q3-Q4) prior to the beginning of the next academic year.WENR_0113_mobilityNEW600

WES application data show an increase of 22 percent in UK applications from Q3-Q4’2008 (Fall 2009) to Q3-Q4’2010 (Fall 2011). Preliminary numbers from Q3-Q4’2012 (Fall 2013) show a 13 percent increase in applications as compared to the same period in 2010. Combined with anecdotal evidence from other sources, these figures suggest that more UK prospects will be applying to U.S. universities and colleges for the 2013-14 academic year.

The growth trend can be attributed to two major factors. Firstly, the cap on tuition fees that British universities can charge grew almost threefold to £9,000 (nearly $15,000) beginning in September 2012. Not surprisingly, this has raised major concerns about affordability, and applications have suffered as a result. In total, UK universities received 255,600 applications from UK 18-year-olds by the January deadline for Fall 2013 programs. This compares with more than 264,500 for the 2010/11 cycle, the year before the introduction of the new fees.

A second factor relates to evidence suggesting that British students are choosing degree programs more selectively based on graduate employment prospects. One in five UK graduates couldn’t find a job at the end of 2011, an unemployment rate similar to that of high school graduates. With the depreciated value of a British college degree and bleak career prospects at home, students are becoming more selective about their study options and increasingly open to studying on full-degree programs abroad.

U.S. higher education institutions interested in recruiting British students can respond to the new demand by communicating the long-term benefits of studying at their institution, in addition to promoting the overall value of the U.S. educational experience.

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WES Research & Advisory Services offers research-based consulting solutions on student mobility, international enrollment, and transnational education.

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