Survey reveals motivations of postgraduate students in emerging markets

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Postgraduate applicants in emerging markets are largely motivated by a desire to progress in their current career path
  • Most emerging market applicants give the greatest weight to the institution’s reputation or ranking in their intended field of study, followed closely by overall institutional reputation
  • Leading study destinations – the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and Germany – remain the preferred choices for postgraduate applicants from emerging markets

We love a good student survey around here, and QS is out this month with an interesting new slice of data that focuses on the motivations of international postgraduate applicants from 11 emerging markets.

We say “slice” because the report essentially parses selected emerging market responses to the QS World Grad School Tour Applicant Survey gathered between June 2014 and June 2016. At 2,096 emerging market respondents, the sample size is small (especially on a per country basis) but nevertheless provides some interesting directional indicators for recruiters. All of those responding to the survey were in the process of applying for admission to postgraduate degree programmes abroad.

The survey zeroes in on four countries that are increasingly seen as significant emerging markets for international recruitment: Nigeria, Indonesia, Brazil, and Turkey. In most cases, QS has paired these priority targets with other promising markets from the same region: Brazil with Mexico and Colombia, Nigeria with Ghana and Kenya, and Indonesia with the Philippines.

Bangladesh and Pakistan round out an 11-country sample of markets that share some common characteristics: booming youth populations, significant issues with domestic higher education, and, in some cases, national scholarship schemes to support study abroad.

Why study abroad?

Consistent with other surveys in the field, QS finds that employability is a major driver of demand for postgraduate studies abroad.

Most emerging market respondents indicated more specifically that their primary motivation for study abroad was to progress in their current career path. Bangladesh and Pakistan were the exceptions here: most applicants from those countries said they wanted to pursue postgraduate degrees abroad in order to progress to higher-level academic qualifications (that is, doctoral studies).

Where to study?

Not surprisingly, the US and UK were the two most-preferred destinations among emerging market respondents, with Canada, Australia, and Germany rounding out the top five choices.

Some interesting regional variations were noted, with the US and Canada more prominent in the preferences of students in Nigeria and Ghana, for example, and Germany and Australia more strongly preferred by Bangladeshi and Pakistani students. In contrast, the US and UK were consistently the number one and number two choices (respectively) of emerging market respondents in Latin America.

The main factor behind destination preferences appears to be “international recognition of qualifications,” which QS interprets as the students’ interest in ensuring that their foreign degrees will be valued at home and abroad.

Broadly speaking, African and South Asian students gave even greater weight to the availability of scholarships or other financial aid. And respondents from Latin America, along with their interest in international recognition of qualifications earned abroad, put a high priority on cultural and lifestyle factors.

The importance of subject rankings

When it comes down to choosing an institution, most respondents (47% of master’s applicants, 49% of doctoral applicants) put the highest priority on the institution’s reputation or ranking with respect to their intended field of study.

For master’s applicants, and reflecting the overarching importance of recognition of qualifications earned abroad, this was closely followed by institutional reputation (45%), employment prospects (40%), and funding (34%). Funding was the second-ranked factor for PhD applicants (42%) followed by overall institutional reputation (36%).

QS concludes that framing postgraduate study as a stepping stone to career advancement is likely to have the widest appeal, except for students in Pakistan and Bangladesh who are more strongly inclined to see master’s-level study as a path to a more advanced degree.

The report authors also suggest highlighting both subject-specific and institutional reputation for prospective postgraduate students, with a greater emphasis on subject-specific strengths when recruiting in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Indonesia, and Turkey.

On the key question of post-study work, the report concludes, “While post-study work opportunities are considered by a significant proportion of applicants in all profiled markets, this appears to have a particularly strong impact on the destination choices of those in the Philippines, Brazil and Turkey, while carrying less weight for those in Bangladesh, Pakistan, or Indonesia.”

For additional background on the motivations and key decision factors for international postgraduate students, please see:



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