Karl Baldacchino

Student interest for PhD studies close to pre-pandemic levels


More often than not, most students look to study a Master’s programme when thinking about studying abroad; however, there is a sizable amount of student interest being generated for PhD studies. In particular, PhD programmes have notably witnessed a return in prospective student interest in 2023, coming close to their pre-pandemic numbers.

Despite the increase seen in 2020, this was followed by a sharp decline in student interest in 2021 and 2022, as interest fell by 13.2% and 21.1% respectively. Following this, 2023 saw a significant growth of 32.1%.

Figure 1: Year-over-year change in student interest in studying a PhD (2020-2023)


One main reason behind this rise may be due to the fact that the number of PhDs being offered in the higher education market increased three times over in 2023. This can be further seen by the destinations that increased their supply the most, alongside the disciplines that saw a large growth in supply.

Figure 2: Trend in the supply of PhDs over the last 24 months, including comparison of supply for destination countries and discipline fields


In relation to this, the United States, Canada, Spain, and the Netherlands are top study destinations that witnessed notable growth in relative student interest in 2023 compared to 2022, while interest for various destinations of choice fell, primarily Finland, Australia, Switzerland, and Germany.

Figure 3: Year-over-year change in relative student interest for PhDs offered by top destinations


In terms of which origins indicated more relative interest in studying for a PhD, one can see a gradual increase from US, UK, and, to an extent, Pakistani students. On the other hand, Indian students consistently showed less interest over the last 24 months, with Iranian interest largely seen as turbulent but possibly on the rise.

Figure 4: Trend in relative student interest from top-5 origin countries to study a PhD, last 24 months


If we focus on which academic fields prospective students may want to earn their PhD in, then those linked to Computer Science & IT, Medicine & Health, and Engineering & Technology are areas that are both appealing to students and have seen a rise in demand over the last 12 months. At the other end of the spectrum, PhD’s in Business & Management lost relative interest in the same period, despite being attractive to students.

Figure 5: Dynamics of relative student interest for PhDs according to top-10 discipline areas, last 24 months

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