International students are more likely to want to study at British universities thanks to the success of the vaccine rollout, despite a widespread perception that the UK government mishandled its initial response to the pandemic, a survey suggests.
Nearly half (47%) of prospective international students said they would be more likely to choose to study in the UK because of the rate of vaccinations in the country, with nearly a fifth (17%) saying they thought the government was handling the rollout better than anywhere else, according to the survey of 105,083 students planning to attend university abroad. The UK was more popular than the US, Canada, Australia and Germany.
The report, authored by university rankings provider QS, said: “The effectiveness and speed of the rollout is making the UK seem a more attractive and viable destination to begin their studies in September compared to some other countries.”
Despite their enthusiasm for the vaccine programme, nearly half (45%) of the students surveyed said they did not think the UK had handled its broader pandemic response effectively, a much lower rating than for New Zealand, Canada, Australia and Germany. The report speculated that this was due to international coverage of the UK’s high death toll.
Vivienne Stern, the director of Universities UK International (UUKi), said the survey showed UK universities had remained resilient over the course of a difficult year, but they and the government would need to listen closely to international students’ concerns and priorities to sustain high recruitment levels.
Nearly a fifth (17%) of the respondents said the vaccine had made them bring forward their plans to study abroad, while more than half (56%) said they were focusing their search on countries in which a successful vaccine programme was being implemented.
Nearly two-thirds (58%) of the students also thought the UK was becoming more welcoming to international students thanks to the reintroduction of post-study work visas, following several years of immigration policies seen as hostile to overseas students. However, European students perceived the UK to be less welcoming since they will have to pay higher international fees from September as a result of Brexit.
Despite initial fears that international students would be deterred from attending UK universities due to the country’s high Covid infection rates and death toll, applications from overseas reached their highest level last year.
However some current international students have been angry at paying high fees to study mostly online during successive lockdowns. In March, 300 international students at several London universities withheld their £29,000 fees in protest at their universities’ response to the pandemic.