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How 2020 has Changed International Student Recruitment in the UK



The UK’s higher education sector has defied expectations throughout 2020. Although certain institutions have been badly affected by the pandemic, the sector as a whole has proved more resilient than anticipated. UK universities are now considering new strategies that would have been considered disruptive pre-2020.

Discover just how much of an effect the pandemic had on international recruitment from this webinar: Around the World with Data in 60 Minutes. Our Director of Analytics and Consulting, Thijs van Vugt, was joined by Rachel Sandison of the University of Glasgow and Bobby Mehta from the University of Portsmouth to explore some of the most illuminating data points of 2020.

Around the World in 60 Minutes with Data: How 2020 changed International Student Interest for the UK


Last year began on a high note as international interest in UK programmes peaked above 2019 search rates in February. With the outbreak of COVID-19 striking Europe, that interest dropped significantly in March. In total, the drop in interest amounts to 4.2% for on-campus programmes across the year – that’s slightly below the global average of 4.3%. When compared to the 20.9% drop the US market experienced, International Directors in the UK are calling that a big win.

We now know that colleagues have delivered very good results online. On the whole, students are very happy with online learning.’- Bobby Mehta

Delayed offer-making and deferred entries are set to make a big impact on recruitment in 2021. The year has already started higher than in 2020. What’s clear is that the pandemic has provided a platform for innovation across a number of key university functions, including the nature of teaching itself:

I do think the teaching model will entirely change as a result of the pandemic…Feedback from asynchronous online learning is that it’s great…We then need to go back to the value proposition for face-to-face and understand what that value proposition is.‘ – Rachel Sandison

With the future of teaching itself in question, UK universities are considering new strategies, including the possibility of more frequent intakes. It’s likely that universities will be turning to more flexible, less traditional, teaching schedules like the carousel model to take advantage of new market opportunities.

For UK universities that are able to be a little more creative about intakes they offer for particular programmes, we know there is real market demand for those later [spring] starts. That’s borne out by student choice in other English-speaking markets around the world.‘  – Rachel Sandison

For more insights from our experts, make sure to check out the full discussion. And don’t forget – there are more data-driven analyses from Studyportals to come.

Watch this space for a breakdown of the US and EMEA. We hope to see you there!

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