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Reading the minds of international students

Claudia Civinini drills into new data from over 35,000 overseas students to find out the factors behind their decision to learn abroad

What would be the international student recruiter’s ultimate dream? A mind-reading tool revealing what goes through the minds of students in their target market. What motivates them to learn abroad, who they really trust in their decision-making, what their goals are, what time they check their emails and are active on social media. Knowledge, after all, is power.

In 2015 students fair organiser FPP EDU Media and digital marketing firm International Education Advantage (Intead) paired up to move closer to this vision. Surveying all 807,000 students in the FPP EDU Media database, 35,000 responded within two days, and it is on this sample that the ‘Know your neighbourhood: international recruiting fuelled by regional insights’ report is based, highlighting similarities and differences between approximately fifteen source markets.

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East Asia leads across the board

Matt Salusbury looks at the results of the Independent Schools Council’s 2015 census and finds that over a third of overseas students boarding in the UK are from China and Hong Kong

Over 27,000 international students attended the Independent Schools Council’s (ISC) 1,267 mostly private-sector year-round boarding schools in the UK last year. Its 2015 census covered schools in ISC’s affiliate member associations across the UK, although the overwhelming majority of schools in the survey are in England, with a cluster of ISC boarding schools in south-east England.

The majority of schools surveyed – 616 of them – were junior (primary); 231 were senior (secondary), and 420 were both junior and senior. Most international boarding-school students have been in the UK for at least a year, and over half of them are in the final two years of secondary school.

A total of 27,221 students at ISC year-round boarding schools – just over 5 per cent of the total student body of a little over half a million – are ‘non-British pupils whose parents live overseas’. The biggest-sending countries are mainland China (over 5,600 boarding school students, which is a fifth of all non-British with parents overseas) and Hong Kong with 4,700 students representing 17 per cent of the total non-British students. Boarder numbers from mainland China have been shooting up in recent years, while Hong Kong’s are flattening out after a decline.

The total for Russian boarding-school students sent to the UK has been increasing since 2011. There are now over 2,700 of these.

The census lumps all EEA countries (EU plus Switzerland, Norway, Luxembourg) together, with the exception of Spain and Germany. ‘Remainder of Europe EEA’ comes in after Germany, with just over 2,000 – 7.8 per cent of the total.

Germany alone is in fifth place, sending just under 2,000 students, followed by Spain with over 1,200. Nigeria sent 1,660 boarders, putting it in seventh place.

In tenth and eleventh place are Thailand and Malaysia. South Korea sends 409 students, just over 1 per cent of the overseas total for students whose parents remain abroad, Japan (341 students sent) and Taiwan are split off from ‘Remainder of Far East’ in the table.

‘Middle East’ sent just under 400 students. Parents in India sent 151 students to UK boarding schools, about the same number as the rest of the sub-continent.

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In addition to international students with parents abroad, there are nearly 17,000 ‘non-British pupils’ with expatriate parents living in the UK, most from other EU countries or the US, but with children of Russian and Indian expatriates also well represented. (It should be noted, though, that around a fifth of the schools surveyed didn’t provide data in this category.) Around four fifths of all the UK’s 1,121 Indian boarding school students have parents living in the country. Children of Nigerian, Korean and Japanese expatriates at UK boarding schools outnumber the children of Russian and Chinese expatriates.

The Gazette also sent a short survey to boarding schools that run summer courses for international students, mostly in general English. Of the six which responded, three said their top nationality was Spanish, one said it was German, and one Russian.

Stonyhurst’s top three nationalities are Spanish, German (overtaking Russian) and Italian. The top three nationalities at Heathfield Summer School for Girls are Spanish, Japanese and Russian. Windermere noted that in 2015 Germany was in first place, followed by China, then Saudi Arabia. In 2014 Russians and Colombians were in second and third place.

At Sherbourne International the top three were German, Russian and Japanese, while it was Russians in first place, then Chinese and Spanish for Concord College’s general English course. Concord’s academic English summer course had Russians as its biggest nationality. Chinese, Italians, Nigerians and Ukrainians were also well represented.

 St Edmunds College summer courses, which include Shakespeare, creative writing and Ielts, recruit from forty countries. Its courses have a maximum 10 per cent quota for each first language, and they reached 10 per cent Mandarin speakers in 2015. It has received students from Bulgaria and Serbia every summer for many years.

International education booming

Claudia Civinini analyses the recent Open Doors report and tracks the remarkable growth in the number of international students in the US

Student mobility ‘has increased dramatically over the recent past’, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report Education at a Glance. With the number of international students worldwide increasing by 50 per cent in the 2005–12 period, the industry seems be enjoying a record-breaking period.

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Independents in demand

Claudia Civinini analyses the 2015 Ialc research to reveal what language travel agents really look for in a partner institution

The International Association of Language Centres (Ialc) commissioned in-depth research from StudentMarketing into the study travel industry, with a particular focus on agents’ opinions. What emerged is not only a general picture of the trends that govern the industry (see September 2015 Gazette) but also, for the first time in the industry’s history, a factual, measurable and evidence-based peek into the agents’ preferences and experience of working with independent and chain schools. An impressive 474 agents from 72 countries participated in the research, which included both a survey and a phone interview.

Overall, agents seem to prefer working with independent schools and boutique chains (smaller chains of five or fewer schools) overwhelmingly because of their ability to offer easier access to senior management and their flexibility. Countries showing the highest number of agents displaying this tendency were Brazil, Italy, Spain, Russia and Switzerland. Some 64 per cent of agency customers opt for independent schools, and 59 per cent of agents think that highlighting their independence would be beneficial for the schools’ marketing. Independent schools and boutique chains are usually preferred for personalised programmes and general English, whereas chains dominate in the pathway sector (preparation for university entry).

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UK still on top but in decline

Claudia Civinini explains how Britain is still the number-one destination for English language students but warns the country is continuing to lose ground to its competitors


The UK is holding its pole position for student numbers in the global ELT market. However, competition from other destinations (mainly the US, Australia and Canada) is fierce, and the UK is losing market share. With the aim of providing a ‘reality check for everyone involved in UK ELT’, English UK has collaborated with Student Marketing to provide its members with a comprehensive survey of the English language teaching industry in the UK.

The report employs data from English UK annual member declarations returned between 2004 and 2014 and data from StudentMarketing concerning the UK’s position in the global market.

General overview           

The UK is overwhelmingly a short-term destination. It figures first in the global market for student numbers, second for student weeks (after the US), fifth for average length of stay (after the US, Australia, Canada and Ireland). Approximately 560,618 students studied at English UK’s 479 state and private-sector member centres in 2014 for an estimated 2,348,116 student weeks – showing a 0.8 per cent decrease in student numbers and 2 per cent decrease in student weeks from 2013. The private sector accounted for 498,072 students for a total 2,000,151 student weeks – a miniscule (0.2 per cent) increase on 2013. The 80 state-sector member centres taught an overall of 347,965 student weeks. The decrease in student weeks from 2013 was almost 15 per cent and was influenced, according to the report, by there being four fewer English UK member centres than in the previous year.

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