Vaccine success boosts appeal of UK universities

The UK's successful rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine has made British universities more appealing to overseas students than those in the US, Canada, Australia and Germany, according to a global survey.

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The survey of more than 105,000 students found that 47% of those contemplating overseas study said they would be more inclined to choose the UK because of the widespread nature of the vaccination programme.Some 17% of respondents also said the development of vaccines had made them bring forward their plans to study abroad, while more than half said they were focusing their searches on countries that had successful vaccination programmes.

UK: "more welcoming" to overseas students

Conducted by QS, the world's largest international higher education network, also found that 58% considered the UK had become ‘more welcoming’ towards overseas students because of the reintroduction this July of post-study work visas.This, however, was not true of many students from EU nations, who deemed the UK to be less welcoming because they will have to pay higher tuition fees from this September as a result of Brexit.

UK universities "need to listen closely to international students’ concerns and priorities"

Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International, said, “The survey shows that UK universities have remained resilient throughout what has been a difficult year. However, they and the government will need to listen closely to international students’ concerns and priorities to sustain high recruitment levels.”QS said the survey findings illustrated the need for institutions across the world to tailor mental health support for international students and to develop tailored recruitment programmes for nations such as India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Nigeria.

Enhance online teaching practices

Additionally, said the QS report, universities needed to learn from recent experiences of transitioning to online learning to “enhance their online teaching practices to allow greater interactivity between staff and students”.However, the survey found that 52% of international students currently in the UK felt their universities had been either ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ effective in delivering online teaching throughout the pandemic.“It is vital that institutions, the government and the sector more broadly listen to the student voices,” said the report.“The combination of a quick and effective rollout of the coronavirus vaccine, the extension of post-study work rights and geo-political tensions elsewhere have all made the UK seem an increasingly welcome and attractive destination for international students."

International students place "huge importance" on careers support

The most important support services that prospective international students felt universities should offer were careers advice and facilities centred on student health.“One stand-out finding is the huge importance international students place on access to careers support,” said Nick Hillman, author of the report’s foreword and director of the Higher Education Policy Institute.“It is an enormous step to travel to another country to study, but people do it often in order to help them secure a fulfilling career afterwards. We must do all we can to help them achieve that ambition.”Paul Raybould, QS marketing director, added, “As the UK continues to navigate the challenges of both Covid-19 and Brexit, it is vital that institutions, the government and the sector more broadly listen to the student voices in this report and are guided by data-led decision making."

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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