Our Latest Report | Brands, pandemics and the IT help desk – what attracts international students? 

30 June 2021

With much debate about the future of international student recruitment following the pandemic, perhaps the best place to start is to better understand what attracts students to study and to study overseas.  CarringtonCrisp’s long running study, The Business of Branding, set out to find some answers in it’s soon to be published report, suggesting that career potential remains key in decision-making. But as it turns out, it’s rather more complicated that just jobs. 

Asked what attributes they most associated with the school they selected for their studies, students highlighted rankings, scholarships, employability and facilities, but also support during the enquiry and application process and a high level of support to help students complete their studies successfully.  For international students making substantial investments in their studies, this last point is particularly important –failure is not an option and that can lead to growing stress and mental health issues, an area that was highlighted in another recent report, Tomorrow’s Masters.  One interviewee in another study recently half-joked, that in the pandemic the IT help desk had become the most important support service in a university. 

Asked specifically about their preferred destinations, students again put the USA and UK first and second, Canada remains in third and Australia, where borders may just be opening again for a small number of international students, is fourth followed by France, Germany and New Zealand.  For those considering international study, decisions are dominated by money, when it comes to both the cost of study and cost of living in their preferred country. 
For those who would consider overseas study, the key reason for rejecting certain locations is the impact of the pandemic. However, four other reasons are also selected by more than 1 in 5 respondents: 

  • a fear about the cost of study in certain countries; 
  • uncertainty about the environment for international students in certain countries;
  • poor language skills;
  • personal safety.

 As well as choosing a course and a university, students are also choosing a country to study.  Respondents to the study are asked about their wider perceptions of 17 international study destinations, to understand what other factors may influence their decision-making. 

From an education viewpoint, the USA is most likely to be identified as having a good range of quality business schools, but also as being an expensive place to study.  The UK is most likely to have been recommended by a friend and offer opportunities to work after graduation. It’s also seen as being welcoming to international students and somewhere respondents would like to study.  Switzerland is most likely to be perceived as having a strong and dynamic economy and offering an attractive lifestyle. 

International student decision-making is complex and brand plays an important part, whether that refers to schools’ brand or the country’s own brand.  While an institution with a strong reputation is always likely to have some success internationally, the scale of its recruitment will always be tempered by wider geo-political and economic factors that are often beyond its control. 


CarringtonCrisp publishes The Business of Branding with EFMD; get first-hand insights on the study by joining our July 7th short webinar here (attendance is free of charge).

The Business of Branding report will be published shortly and can be purchased for a small fee from the CarringtonCrisp website. 


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