An Applicant's View: Exploring International Application to the UK | UCAS x YouthSight

HE Thinking | 05 Jul 2021

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In our new webinar with our client at UCAS, we bring the applicant mindset to light once again - this time with a focus on an international students.

YouthSight's Managing Director, Josephine Hansom, and UCAS's Policy Advisor (International), Brian Pepin, teamed up to launch the ninth webinar in our partnership series, sharing the latest insights around the UK's competitive positioning in the international market and a discussion on what this means for institutions. Watch the playback or read the highlights below.

Watch the playback

Setting the scene

UCAS reports an increase in international applications (17% on last year), as the UK’s strong reputation for academic excellence continues to drive applications from overseas.

88% of international applicants see the UK as a positive (48%) or very positive (40%) place to study. 63% believe the UK is a better option compared to other countries they’re considering applying to, 25% believe the UK is in the same position as other countries and 8% believe it is a worse option.

But there is a threat (fuelled by the recent uncertainty around Brexit and the pandemic) that means choosing a UK university is not a foregone conclusion. UCAS has seen a decline in applications from EU students and just 5% have applied exclusively to the UK.

The UK is competing with other attractive nations:

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The data showed us that older age groups see the UK as a more attractive option compared to younger demographics, and those in Europe feel less positive. This potential shift in perceptions could be a theme coming through that you will need to be aware of in your marketing.

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Within the study, we also asked international applicants how ready they felt to study abroad and 44% felt completely ready, 46% felt somewhat ready and 4% felt not ready at all.

The reasons that respondents didn’t feel prepared included: they were hesitant to leave family/friends, Brexit/costs, the pandemic and that they were still waiting for communication from their chosen university.

Information needs, drivers of choice and barriers to entry

In a year of academic uncertainty, there will always be an appetite for more information among applicants. 72% of international applicants need more information about how the pandemic will impact the academic year and 38% of said they’ve received some information from universities, but still need more. Providing greater communication will strengthen the UK’s position in the international market.

The key difference in priority between UK-domestic and international applicants is their view on costs. This is very much a higher priority for applicants from overseas. According to the data we have in our Undergraduate Success tracking product, this is usually ranked around the ninth most important factor for UK students.

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But what both overseas and UK-domestic applicants have in common is that employability is high on their agenda, and particularly important to applicants from Africa and Asia.

The key motivators to study in the UK centre around the academic reputation, living and learning experiences and their future employability. Core barriers to entry are centred around costs (69%) and Brexit (39%), indicative that the UK is an attractive place to study but also challenging in the current climate.

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Details about course delivery are the priority, but international applicants also want to hear real experiences from current students - stories that they can relate to from a reliable source.

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Preferred channels and sources of information: how do applicants what to hear from you?

Email is the preferred channel of communication for international applicants (97% state this as their preferred contact method). Other important channels include: social media (27%), webinars (26%), live chats (15%) and video (14%). In fact, the majority of preferred channels are virtual, with letters and phone calls being ranked as less important.

When asked about the sources influencing decision-making, the university website and the UCAS website were the top choice.

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Interestingly only 2% rely on the prospectus in their native language, boding the question: is it worth your investment to develop your prospectus in different languages, when most international applicants stick to the English language version anyway?

The views of others are also valued by international students and prove useful decision-making. Current students, university contacts and education agents are all important influencers.

What does this mean for HE providers?

  • Clarity and reassurance is important when communicating with international students 
  • UK universities must promote and deliver on good value for money
  • Support is needed around employability 
  • Additional information leaves a good impression
  • Digital sources of information are a top priority
  • Facilitate contact between current students and international applicants

Key takeaways 

  • 88% of international applicants see the UK as a positive place to study
  • International applicants continue to be attracted by the strong reputation and prestige of UK universities
  • The UK is competing on a global level and attending a UK university is not a foregone conclusion
  • It’s crucial that universities communicate regularly with international applicants to offer support and information
  • The views of others (especially current students) are valued – these connections should be facilitated

View the full series 


Win over next year's applicants 

We offer research tools that are tailor-made for HE professionals, which take the stress and uncertainty off your shoulders - all available instantly and on a budget that suits your institution.

Find out the answers to your specific questions and challenges and apply them to your recruitment strategy to win over next year's applicants. The tools offer: ongoing insight into the mindset of students, access to one-off reports, solutions to specific challenges or a few quick answers.

Find out more


Webinar Series - Catch up on demand

This webinar is part of a series that is developed in partnership with our client at UCAS, to bring free insights that support HE professionals through these different times. The series will guide you through how your UG, PGT and prospective students are feeling throughout the crisis and what they are looking for from those around them. 

All the previous webinar recordings - including this one - are available to watch through UCAS on demand, or you can also catch up with more highlights from our blog.

Coming soon... the next event is already in the pipeline, so keep an eye out. This webinar will focus on 'Pre-applicants: Planning for 2022'. 

View the complete series

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