University recruitment: What international students want from UK universities

— Juliet Edjere

The United Kingdom is renowned for its prestigious universities, offering top-notch education and research opportunities. It has long been a favored destination for international students. However, in the face of increasing global competition and shifting student priorities, UK universities must strategically position themselves to attract and retain students.

In this article, we will explore the insights and recommendations derived from the QS International Student Survey, with responses from over 62,000 prospective students interested in studying in the UK.

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Key insights

Key Insight 1: High-Quality Teaching Matters Most

When it comes to choosing a university and course, prospective students value high-quality teaching above all else. 65% of students surveyed deemed it the most crucial factor. This emphasizes the importance of universities in the UK showcasing their teaching quality.

Practical Advice for Institutions: Universities should prominently emphasize their teaching credentials in their marketing materials. Highlight recognition and ratings for teaching quality and ensure it is reflected in independent rankings.

Questions to Consider:

  1. How can your institution enhance the visibility of its teaching quality?
  2. Are there any innovative teaching methods or technologies your institution can showcase?
  3. How can you improve communication about teaching quality to prospective students?

Key Insight 2: Employability and Career Aspirations

Career outcomes significantly influence student decision-making, with 58% considering it the most important factor when choosing a university. Reputation also plays a crucial role, as students believe a degree from a reputable UK university leads to better career prospects.

Practical Advice for Institutions: Universities should emphasize their strong graduate employability rates and their ability to prepare students for successful careers.

Questions to Consider:

  1. How can your institution strengthen its career development and employability services?
  2. What steps can you take to enhance your university's reputation among prospective students?
  3. Are there specific industries or sectors where your institution excels in graduate outcomes?

Key Insight 3: Environmental Sustainability Matters

Environmental sustainability is gaining importance among students. Over 40% actively research universities' sustainability efforts, and 65% of those surveyed are satisfied with the environmental actions of UK institutions.

Practical Advice for Institutions: Universities should communicate their sustainability initiatives clearly and explore innovative ways to further reduce their carbon footprint.

Questions to Consider:

  1. What sustainability initiatives is your institution currently involved in?
  2. How can you better communicate these efforts to prospective students?
  3. Are there partnerships or collaborations that can enhance your sustainability initiatives?

Key Insight 4: Affordability and Funding

The cost of living is a significant concern for 68% of prospective students. Therefore, universities should focus on communicating affordability, scholarships, and financial aid options.

Practical Advice for Institutions: Universities should provide clear information about affordable accommodation, scholarships, and financial aid options.

Questions to Consider:

  1. How can your institution make studying in the UK more affordable for international students?
  2. Are there new scholarship opportunities or financial aid programs your institution can offer?
  3. How can you address the specific financial concerns of prospective students?

Key Insight 5: Effective Communication Channels

Universities must improve their response times to inquiries and applications. 78% of students expect a complete and personalized response within three days.

Practical Advice for Institutions: Implement machine learning and other technological solutions to enhance response times and personalization.

Questions to Consider:

  1. How can your institution streamline and automate the response process?
  2. Are there ways to provide personalized information more efficiently?
  3. How can you ensure your communication aligns with students' preferred channels?

Key Insight 6: Safety and Welcoming Environment

A safe and welcoming environment is a top priority for 78% of prospective students. It's essential for universities to promote the UK as a safe and inclusive place for international students.

Practical Advice for Institutions: Showcase the UK's safety and inclusivity in marketing materials and support services.

Questions to Consider:

  1. What specific initiatives or programs can your institution implement to create a more inclusive environment?
  2. How can you ensure the safety and well-being of international students?
  3. Are there cultural integration programs your institution can develop?


In the competitive landscape of international education, UK universities must align with prospective students' priorities. By emphasizing high-quality teaching, employability, sustainability, affordability, effective communication, and a welcoming environment, universities can gain a recruitment edge. These insights from the QS International Student Survey offer valuable guidance to institutions seeking to attract and retain diverse and high-achieving students.

[Source: QS International Student Survey 2023]

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