The recently released results of INTO’s annual University Partnerships’ Global Agent Survey highlight some subtle but important shifts in terms of international student study abroad preferences and influences on decision-making.

Major destinations remain popular

The INTO survey found that while the UK, the United States (US), and Australia remain popular, there is a noticeable decrease in the proportion of agents intending to send more students to the UK. This year only 61% of agents said they intended to send more students to the UK, marking an 18% decrease from 2023. Similarly, 61% of agents said they expected to send more students to the US this year. However, this is just a 2% decrease from 2023. The shift away from Australia is also slight, with 61% saying they expected to send more students to Australia this year – 1% fewer than in 2023. INTO notes that these shifts highlight the sensitivity of students and agents to issues such as policy discussions around immigration and visa processing delays.

Cost an increasingly important factor

Cost is emerging as a crucial determinant in students’ study abroad decisions, according to over 80% of agents surveyed by INTO. This sentiment was particularly strong among agents in Africa (96%), South Asia (90%), and Europe & Central Asia (90%). Notably, even in China, a market traditionally considered less price sensitive, 78% of agents felt that cost was increasingly influencing students’ destination choices.

Increasing interest in alternative destinations

Agents from South Asia, the Middle East & Africa reported to INTO that Europe (excluding the UK) is an area of growing interest for students, with Germany and Ireland increasingly attractive. In contrast, Chinese agents reported increased student interest in studying in other Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore.

A shift in interest away from the UK and other major destinations towards Europe is congruent with the findings of a survey of 25,000 prospective Indian students undertaken by upGrad, an Indian EdTech company. The upGrad survey found that Europe is the top preference for 48.8% of students, compared to the US at 27.6% and the UK at 9.5%.  Specifically, Germany, which offers tuition-free education, is the country with the most interest, with 32.6% of students saying it is their dream destination, followed by Ireland (3.9%) and France (3.3%). In 2023, Germany and India signed a migration and mobility agreement, which may be also partly contributing to the increased interest in Germany as a study-abroad destination for Indian students.

Increased likelihood of later decision-making

An important shift noted by INTO is that agents report that “limited availability of visa appointments, or large delays to visa decisions, coupled with lack of clarity about evolving landscape” mean that students are increasingly hedging their bets and applying to multiple universities in multiple destinations. INTO note that is likely to translate into later decision-making on the part of students:

“this will likely impact on the timing of when students commit to study abroad decisions, both in terms of confirming places (and completing a financial deposit), or if primary choice remains uncertain, potentially opting to defer enrolment until greater clarity is available.”