In this Inbound Insight series article, we look at the rising number of students from Pakistan choosing to study abroad, and explore what this cohort looks for in student accommodation based on data gathered through the Global Student Living Index.

UNESCO figures show that the number of students from Pakistan travelling abroad to study has grown steadily over the past decade. In 2013, Pakistan had almost 40,000 students studying abroad. By 2020 this number had grown to 64,604 outbound students.

Outbound destinations

The UNESCO 2020 data shows that the United Arab Emirates was the most popular destination, hosting 24,863 (38.48%) of Pakistan’s total number of outbound students.  Australia was the second most popular destination, with 11,297 (17.48%) Pakistani students, followed by the UK with 7,802 students (12.07%), and the US, which hosted 7,511 students (11.62%).  However, more recent data from each country suggests that the number of outbound students from Pakistan has grown significantly since 2020. As an example, 2021/22 HESA data shows that there were 23,075 students from Pakistan enrolled in UK universities – this is almost three times the number reflected in UNESCO’s 2020 figures, and places Pakistan as the UK’s fourth-largest source market. Similarly, Australian Department of Education data shows that there were 15,875 students from Pakistan studying in Australia in 2022.

What’s contributing to this growth?

An education system that is unlikely to be able to meet demand, bleak prospects for young people, and a lack of high-quality post-graduate offerings are all likely contributors to the increased growth in outbound student numbers.

Pakistan is the world’s fifth-most populous country and is predicted to see its population grow to more than 300 million by 2050. According to a United Nations Development report, 64 percent of Pakistan’s population are under the age of 30, with 29 percent aged between 15 and 29. However, the number who progress to tertiary is low, and the education system is significantly under-resourced.

The Asian Development Bank notes that Pakistan is also experiencing a marked slow-down in economic growth – the result of  “devastating floods in 2022, impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, security issues, structural risks, and adverse external shocks which continue to pose major economic challenges”.

Improved post-graduate employment options in countries such as the UK and Australia are also likely to be driving this increased growth in the number of Pakistani students choosing to study abroad. For those who can afford it, studying abroad is increasingly likely to be viewed by some Pakistani students as an opportunity to gain an advantage in a job market with a youth unemployment rate of around 30% according to a recent report by the Pakistan Institute for Development Economics. The report also notes that many of those who are unemployed have completed tertiary-level education and there is a mismatch between the skills required for jobs and the skills of graduates. Studying abroad is also likely to be viewed as a migration route for some.

Priorities for students from Pakistan

Students from Pakistan are likely to prioritise studying in courses in areas of skills shortages given the challenges graduates face in obtaining employment and increasing interest in emigration.  They are also likely to place a high priority on support to find opportunities for paid employment while studying. Student visa and post-study work visa options are also likely to influence the choice of study abroad destination for Pakistani students.

Data from the latest Global Student Living Index (2022 Q4) shows that students from Pakistan are more likely to favour official university websites to find housing, with general web searches and social media used as a backup. Online reviews and recommendations from others are also important sources of information for this cohort when choosing where to live.

When choosing their accommodation, students from Pakistan place a similar level of priority on the travel time to their place of study as most international students (81% vs 80%), however, they place a higher priority on the staff/team (50% vs 42%), and student care and support (41% vs 33%). Pakistani students also prioritise kitchen size and facilities more than most international students (66% vs 60%) as well as the opportunity to live with like-minded people (37% vs 31%). Interestingly, although it might be expected that students from Pakistan would be more price-conscious than others, Pakistani students place almost the same  priority on budget as most international students (65% vs 64%).