How regional variations play out for international students deciding on where to study
Regional characteristics and differences persist in destination choice factors
The latest Navitas Agent Perception Survey conducted in May 2022 reveals that the top five factors influencing student choice of study destination are cost of study, quality of education, access to post study work rights, opportunities to work while studying and opportunities for permanent migration. This list is common to most countries and regions around the world but the scale of the Navitas survey has allowed us to find some meaningful differences between regions.
The survey reveals five key region-specific insights:
1. Students from South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa pursue migration opportunities and are cost-sensitive
South Asia (n=170) and Sub-Saharan Africa (n=40) share an identical top-five list of factors influencing choice of study destination. Uniquely for these two regions, access to post-study work rights is rated the number one factor, followed by cost, opportunities to work, and opportunities for migration. Quality of education is important but only ranked at number five.
These survey findings align with the notion that South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa comprise a large proportion of cost-sensitive international students seeking temporary and permanent migration opportunities.
“This desire for post-study work rights is deeply ingrained across South Asia and has long been a key motivator in a student’s choice of destination. Historically, we’ve seen student flows dictated by the post-study work policy of the various destinations so, for example, when UK work rights have been limited but Australia work rights have been welcoming, student volumes have been diverted accordingly. It is rare for the main study destinations to all have attractive post-study work policies at the same time; South Asian students are presented with multiple ‘friendly’ study options, which has resulted in the comparatively large outbound volumes that we’re currently experiencing.”
— Simon Jacobs, Regional Sales Director, South Asia
Figure 1: Top five issues in response to “What are currently the most important factors influencing student choice of study destination?” – South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa
Source: Navitas Agent Perception Survey – May 2022 for South Asia (n=170) and Sub-Saharan Africa (n=40)
2. Students from Greater China are still thinking about the pandemic
While most regions of the world have moved on from COVID-19 and reverted to the typically important factors that influence student choice, concerns about Covid-19 remain in the top 5 factors influencing student choice in Greater China. While it may have fallen from the number one spot it held in our October 2021 survey, to number 5 in the latest research, it remains a much higher concern than most other regions, where COVID-19 impact doesn’t even rate in the top 10.
The Chinese Government’s continued pursuit of zero-COVID continues to be the key explanation for this distinction. Case counts remain comparatively low, and lockdowns remain a feature of life across the country. Travel, both domestic and international, is significantly constrained – entry or re-entry into China still requires one to two weeks of quarantine in a centralised facility.
As a sign of a slow and gradual return to normality, there has been an increase in the importance of more typical factors namely quality of education (from #4 to #2), institution ranking (from #7 to #3), and cost of study (from #6 to #4).
“There is a genuine fear across China, not just of contracting COVID-19 per se, but of strict measures applied to anyone infected or being a close or secondary contact. While they appear unrelated, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume a link between the concern over COVID-19 and the importance currently placed on factors relating to ranking and quality. In order to face the risks of travelling and potentially not being able to return home for an extended period of time, a student and their family would want a higher than normal return in terms of quality and prestige. With the significant decline in student numbers since 2020, it has also become a serendipitous opportunity for those willing and able to go, since higher-ranking universities are now being much more accommodating to the reduced candidate pool. This is evident in the extended deadlines and reduced entry requirements being often observed.” — Kim Eklund, Regional Sales Director, Greater China
Figure 2: Top five issues in response to “What are currently the most important factors influencing student choice of study destination?” – Greater China
Source: Navitas Agent Perception Survey – May 2022 for Greater China (n=84)
3. Students from Europe are expected to be more rankings-conscious
International students from Europe (n=39), share much in common with students from other countries. They are certainly cost-sensitive, and are open to post-study work and migration opportunities. However, they are also conscious of the rankings of their selected institution, which is a top-three factor (an unusual feature in common only with students from the Greater China region).
“With European students, we see a notable pivot towards quality of education outcomes and rankings as being a principle factor in decision-making. Europe is the home of outstanding tertiary institutions so when considering study abroad, students seek something ‘equal to or better’ than what they have on home turf. Additionally, those considering study abroad are more concerned now than ever about future careers and their niche in the future of the workplace: the future is uncertain and young learners see such opportunities to future proof their careers.”
— Omid Honari, Regional Sales Director, EMEAA
Figure 3: Top five issues in response to “What are currently the most important factors influencing student choice of study destination?” – Europe
Source: Navitas Agent Perception Survey – May 2022 for Europe (n=39)
4. The ability to work while studying is the top-priority for students from Latin America
Latin America is the only region where opportunities to work while studying is the number one factor influencing choice of study destination. Australia’s current policy to temporarily lift the 20-hour per week restriction on paid work is therefore likely to be especially attractive to students from Latin America.
Other factors that round out the top five factors for Latin America are fairly typical for international students in general: cost, opportunities for permanent residency, access to post-study work rights and the quality of education. Just outside the top five at rank 6th is ‘quality of life in destination’; this is another feature somewhat specific to this region, as this factor typically ranks 9th globally
“Students from LATAM see a distinct relationship between: Language improvement and higher education, ability to work and earn, and quality of life. Much more so than international students from other parts of the world. As such, they tend to place high value on improving their English-language skills, and having an enjoyable experience while doing so. Many of these students tend to have limited financial support from their families, and must therefore keep an eye on costs, while also working part-time during their studies to pay their way.” — Omid Honari, Regional Sales Director, EMEAA
Figure 4: Top five issues in response to “What are currently the most important factors influencing student choice of study destination?” – Latin America
Source: Navitas Agent Perception Survey – May 2022 for Europe (n=51)
5. South East Asia is a bisected market sharing commonalities with both Greater China and South Asia
South East Asia is one of the more complex regions comprising 10 diverse countries at varying stages of economic development, significant cultural diversity, and with varied political structures. While there are common factors influencing decision making across the region (in particular cost of study, access to post-study work rights, and quality of education), the survey also reveals some meaningful differences relating to the size or maturity of economies.
At the higher-income tier are countries like Malaysia and Singapore (as well as Brunei). In terms of the key factors that influence choice of study destination, these countries share some commonality with the Greater China region, featuring issues of safety and security and ranking of institution in the top-five factors influencing decision making.
Figure 5: Top five issues in response to “What are currently the most important factors influencing student choice of study destination?” – South East Asia: Malaysia and Singapore as compared to Greater China
Source: Navitas Agent Perception Survey – May 2022 for South East Asia: Malaysia and Singapore (n=34)
At the middle to lower-income tier are countries such as Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. These countries have more in common with South Asia, where opportunities to work while studying and opportunities for permanent migration feature prominently in the top five factors.
Figure 6: Top five issues in response to “What are currently the most important factors influencing student choice of study destination?” – South East Asia: Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam as compared to South Asia
Source: Navitas Agent Perception Survey – May 2022 for South East Asia: Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam (n=54)