An aecc survey of 8,312 current and prospective international students from 124 countries (excluding China) has found that interest in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia as potential study destinations has decreased in the past twelve months while interest in New Zealand, Germany and the United States has grown.

Quality of education (38%) and job opportunities (25%) are key priorities for students when deciding where to study, as are post-study work rights (11%). The aecc survey shows that intention to study in Canada has reduced by 32%, intention to study in the UK has reduced by 16% and intention to study in Australia has reduced by 9%. At the same time, there has been an 86% increase in intention to study in New Zealand, a 36% increase in intention to study in Germany, and a 13% increase in intention to study in the United States.

The aecc survey highlights that international students are acutely aware of major policy shifts around international students as key destinations grapple with housing and other crises. In January 2024, Canada announced a cap on international students. Australia’s international education sector is facing significant disruption due to a significant increase in student visa refusals. In March this year, the UK announced that a review of the graduate route visa would be undertaken by the Migration Advisory Committee, with a report due by 14 May 2024.  The graduate route visa was launched in July 2021, and allows international students to stay in the UK for two years (or three years for PhD students) after graduation. Universities UK analysis highlights that the expanded post-study work rights available under the Graduate Route has been a key factor in attracting more than 600,000 additional international enrolments and over €60 billion to the UK economy between 2019/20 and 2023/24.

Over 75% of aecc survey respondents reported that they were extremely or somewhat concerned about recent policy changes in the UK. According to aecc, the top three concerns of survey respondents are changes to dependant visas, minimum required income for post-study employment sponsorship, and potential future changes to graduate visa work rights. Almost half said they would be likely to change their choice of preferred study destination if the UK graduate visa duration was reduced from the current two years. Other sector research paints a similar picture – an IDP survey indicates that just over 4 in 10 applicants (45%) would change or consider changing their study destination if the post-study work period was shortened.

However, uncertainty around the future of the graduate route has already caused some students to look at other destinations. Latest data from enrolment platform Enroly has found that just over one third (37%) of prospective students report the Government’s intention to review the Graduate visa has meant that they are re-considering study abroad plans or inclined to choose another destination. Universities UK (UUK) analysis suggests that uncertainty over post-study work opportunities combined with an earlier decision to restrict the ability of international students to bring dependents to the UK, has already had a significant impact on international student enrolments for 2024. A UUK survey of over 70 universities shows a significant decline in international enrolments, especially from postgraduate-taught students. Postgraduate taught enrolments were reported to be down by more than 40% in January 2024 which is when the restrictions around dependents took effect.

Enroly paints a similar picture, showing the international student demand for the UK is down significantly on last year, with overall deposits down by more than a third on the same point in 2023.

The full aecc report can be downloaded here.