Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
24th Jun 2022

Survey finds international students more focused on the future, and careers in particular

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • Fear of contracting COVID is almost a non-factor in most international students’ decision-making about where to study abroad
  • Instead, students say concerns about the future and finances play a huge role in their decisions about where to study

What a lot has changed in the span of two years – or even one. Looking back on our reporting in 2020 and 2021, prevalent themes included students’ struggles with mental health, consumers’ growing expectation that brands be more caring in their communications, and governments’ responses to COVID-19 playing a role in the popularity of study abroad destinations.
We still live with COVID-19, but most of us have entered a “post-pandemic” mindset that is perhaps best summarised as “wanting to get on with things” – with or without an extra level of caution such as masking indoors or getting booster shots.
This mentality now influences the decision-making of the many international students who never gave up on their dreams of study abroad even when they had to defer or cancel plans in 2020 and 2021.
A May 2022 QS Higher Education Briefing entitled “Is COVID-19 still impacting student decision-making?” – based on a survey of students in 56 countries – has essentially found that fear of contracting COVID is no longer an issue for most international students. What students are motivated by now is concern for the future – a future that feels much less certain given the profound impact the pandemic has had on education and economies.
The survey on which the brief is based was conducted in March 2022.

Demand remains strong, but students have concerns

Almost three-quarters of respondents (71%) to the QS survey disagreed with the statement “COVID-19 has made me less interested in studying overseas” – a much smaller proportion of 17% agreed with the statement.

It is the after-effects of the pandemic – and/or the current threat of it resurging – that is on the minds of students. Almost 6 in 10 students (58%) agreed that COVID has made them concerned about their future job prospects – only 21% did not agree with the statement. A similar proportion was worried that they might not get the “full student experience” in their destination of choice (i.e., if a COVID outbreak led to restrictions being imposed again), and more than half said their finances have been impacted by COVID.

“Is COVID-19 still impacting student decision-making?” Source: QS

Employment prospects top the list of priorities

The QS survey found that students consider employment prospects (64%), followed closely by an institution’s reputation (61%), to be the top factors influencing where they choose to study. “COVID case numbers” came in at only 3%.

“What are the three most important factors you are considering in your choice of which country to study in?” Source: QS

Financial pressures and a generation intent on a better future

Already considered a very pragmatic generation, Gen Z (comprising high-school and college-aged students) has become even more practical as a result of the pandemic and other pressing issues that other generations were not faced with during their college years.
Findings from the 2022 instalment of the Deloitte Gen Z and Millennial Survey conducted in 46 countries illustrate the stressors on Gen Z around finances and the future. The survey revealed that,

  • “Almost half of Gen Zs (46%) and millennials (47%) live paycheck to paycheck and worry they won’t be able to cover their expenses.
  • More than a quarter of Gen Zs (26%) and millennials (31%) are not confident they will be able to retire comfortably.
  • Around three-quarters of Gen Zs (72%) and millennials (77%) agree that the gap between the richest and poorest people in their country is widening.”

The survey findings dovetail with a 2021 INTO survey that found that 72% of students across 92 countries felt that a university’s ability to equip them with the skills they need to succeed after graduation was more important than institutional rankings. As Olivia Streatfeild, CEO of INTO University Partnerships, explains,

“The COVID-19 pandemic has instilled a sense of pragmatism in Gen Z students. Rather than yearly rankings, they are looking for concrete evidence that higher education institutions will help them find long-term success in their careers and lives.”

Highlight good career outcomes

As prospective students’ fears about becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus recede into the background, demand for study abroad will continue to rise. Destinations and institutions that can provide “proof” of positive graduate outcomes stand the best chance of meeting international enrolment targets for programmes beginning in 2023 and 2024.

When assessing destinations and institutions on that basis, students look for evidence of:

  • Meaningful linkages with industry and/or professional groups;
  • Work experience projects and internships built into programmes;
  • Career guidance, support, and networking events;
  • Graduates obtaining good jobs shortly after graduation;
  • Graduates going on to have distinguished careers.

The University of Sydney gets right to the point on their homepage – a good model for any institution that has strong graduate employment outcomes. Student and alumni testimonials ­­– especially when image- or video-based – are also key tools to consider in recruiting overseas.

For additional background, please see:

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