Hobsons Choice – International Student Decision Making

A recent publication by Hobsons EMEA “Beyond the Data: Influencing international student decision making” provides a ten point plan which provides an insight into how international students make decisions about overseas study. The report contain useful information on who a typical international student might be, the motivations for selecting a particular institution, information gathering, decision making and application, and ends with questions about “what is teaching quality”.

In addition the report shows that ‘student experience’ and contact time are much less important to applicants than institutional and course-specific league table rankings.

The ten point plan is summarised as:

  1. Course, then country, then institution: that is the order of an international student’s decision-making process. Students select a course to study first, then they evaluate the country and only after doing that will they select the institution
  2. Fees are the second most important consideration for international students and are the number one reason for declining offers
  3. Subject/course rankings are more important in student decision-making than institution rankings or other factors including fees
  4. Perception of student satisfaction does not drive choice of institution
  5. Graduate outcomes are a key factor in international students’ decision-making
  6. Each institution has a role to play in marketing their country as a desirable destination
  7. Country level messaging reinforcing welcome and safety of international students will support institutional marketing
  8. Institutions must be clear on their brand value proposition for each course
  9. Students want to engage with institutions and their content through visual social media sites (YouTube and Instagram) during the research phase of selecting an institution
  10. It is not just about giving out information or an offer: students need to be nurtured from the information gathering phase through to enquiry and then application.

As someoen who works with league tables and portfolio performance, I was interested in teh survey results on how international student perceive teaching quality:

When students are asked to rate the importance of factors related to teaching quality respondents said that academic reputation (76 per cent), subject or course ranking (76 per cent), student satisfaction with the institution (74 per cent), tuition fees (72 per cent) and use of technology in teaching (72 per cent) were their most important determinates for teaching quality. It was interesting to us that graduate employment rates (64 per cent) and teaching hours per week (57 per cent) were less important. The two least important factors were the age of the institution (33 per cent) and high entry requirements (39 per cent).

When studnets were asked to comapre the variosu factors, and trade themm off against each pther, then fees can be seen to be the ost important, with subject ranking just behind. Studnet satisfaciiotn seems to be of little importance!


Overall, a document worth reading, especially for anyone involved in international student recruitment – it may reinforce the things we already know, but, for example,  I didn’t know that student satisfaction was seen of being as such little importance when used in deciding where to study, That doesn’t mean it’s unimportant, as it’s of massive importance once a student is with us.


Why the UK Should Commit to More International Students

A recent publication from the Institute for Public Policy Research, “Britain Wants You” makes a strong case for increasing the number of international students coming to the UK, but recognises the conflict in government policy between different departments – the Home Office committed to a reduction in net migration, and BIS supporting international students.

student migration chart for twitter option 2

Its key recommendations include:

  • the abandonment of the net migration target, which is a bad measure of policy
  • investment in gathering improved longitudinal data about students’ pathways through the immigration system
  • more selective and targeted screening of prospective international students, and greater support for education institutions that are licensed to sponsor them
  • introducing a modest levy on international students for NHS coverage, equivalent to the typical cost of private medical insurance for a student (around £100–£200 per year), but offsetting this charge with corresponding advantages, including increased working rights during and after study
  • an intelligence-­led independent review of the burgeoning student visitor visa route to monitor any unusual patterns


As well as case studies of individual colleges, the report includes a section on Indian students, and points out that from 2012 to 2013, the number of Indian students in the UK fell by 24%, despite an insufficient number of institutions of suitable quality in India and rising prosperity meaning that an increasing number of Indian parents are becoming able to support children studying overseas. A survey of potential students suggested that although they have historically seen the UK as a favourable destination, other international destinations were equally or more attractive. The post study work options in the UK are less favouable than some other destinations and 91% of students thought that this would put some off from applying to the UK. In addition, students found the visa application process difficult.

The report concludes with:

BIS has made predictions about the extent to which the sector could grow in the coming years, but the government’s own net migration target is preventing it from allowing the sector to grow. This is causing damage to the UK’s education sector and the national economy. The government and education institutions need to come together to form a new consensus to plan for growth in the international education sector.

Given that current policies in this area appear to have reached an impasse, and public anxiety about immigration is showing no sign of abating, it is essential that the government introduces rational, workable solutions. These measures should not penalise genuine institutions and genuine students, as this has a negative impact on the UK both in terms of earnings and reputation. Above all, the government now needs to commit unequivocally to increasing the number of international students studying in British education institutions.

As universities move into a new regime where student number controls are removed, and the market for home/EU undergraduates is freed up further, it becomes essential to make it desirable for  international students  to come to the UK. Universities need to be able to attract this source of income, but also need to provide the benefits to all students of a more internationalised experience that a diverse student body can bring.

Staffordshire University International Partnerships Conference

This week we hosted our first ever international partnerships conference, with delegates from all over the world, from our overseas partners.

The aim was to build relationships between our partners, and to discuss issues affecting transnational education, particularly quality assurance and enhancement. It was personally a great opportunity to meet up with colleagues and old friends I have worked with over the years, frequently through reviews, valdations and exam boards.

My keynote was around improving student outcomes and engagement, and I placed considerable emphasis on league tables, how they are constructed, and how we perform in them. League table position is a concern to us as well as to international partners, but hopefully I managed to shed some light on how they work, what we are doing to address the results, and where we actually do OK.

My slides can be seen on Slideshare, and meanwhile, here are some of the Twitter questions that came up during the talk.