UK Students Going Abroad in the Quest for Best Value

By Li Chang, WES Research & Advisory Services [1]

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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 [3]. The financial crisis has also negatively impacted employment prospects for recent graduates [4]. 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 [5]

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 [6], 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 [7] prospects. One in five UK graduates couldn’t find a job [8] at the end of 2011, an unemployment rate similar to that of high school graduates [9]. 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 [2] offers research-based consulting solutions on student mobility, international enrollment, and transnational education.

See more at wes.org/RAS [11]

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