Prospective students are concerned about visa requirements and missing out on the true university experience

Key points:

  • On 1 June, 20% of the UK’s year 12s said they were worried about missing out on the real university experience (versus 15% early May), while 7% is concerned about not having enough contact hours (vs 4% early May) and 6% is worried about not having access to academic staff (vs 3% early May)
  • 16% of prospective international students compared to 11% of current students consider information about scholarships and funding as the most helpful to them when in the awareness and comparison phase of their student journey
  • Universities could aim to take away some of these concerns within their messaging by providing more information on topics such as visas, scholarships and funding, and on the number of contact hours and access to academic staff

Higher education applicants are concerned about missing out on the true university experience and not having enough contact hours, as Covid-19 continues to affect many aspects of life. Meanwhile, international students are increasingly worried about visa requirements.

These are the main conclusions of two separate studies looking into the concerns and decision-making processes of prospective students.

Fundamental Media has conducted desk research into how the Coronavirus has affected applicant sentiment and consulted several sources such as research foundation YouthSight and a survey by educations.com.

YouthSight found that 77% of the UK’s year 12s has been personally affected by the coronavirus, with 69% indicating personal or family financial and/or job problems due to Covid-19.

On 1 June, 20% of respondents said they were worried about missing out on the real university experience (versus 15% early May), while 7% is concerned about not having enough contact hours (vs 4% early May) and 6% is worried about not having access to academic staff (vs 3% early May).

The uncertainty around their university experience is affecting their commitment, with 21% already having changed some of their university decisions. Eight percent said they had decided to defer a year, although YouthSight said this is not yet reflected in the data where un-deferring is a trend. Of those applicants considering a deferral, 26% said they wanted a true university experience, while 38% said they do not want to be taught online.

Visa requirements a growing concern

For international students, the travel restrictions in place to combat Covid-19 also have a significant impact. A survey by educations.com among 20,000 international students found that visa requirements are an increasing concern, as 14% of prospective versus 9% of current students rank this as their top concern about studying abroad. While the survey was carried out pre-pandemic, it is likely these concerns have only become worse since.

Furthermore, 16% of prospective international students compared to 11% of current students consider information about scholarships and funding as the most helpful to them when in the awareness and comparison phase of their student journey. Given the high percentage of prospective students in the UK who indicate the coronavirus has affected their personal or family’s financial and/or job situation in the YouthSight survey, it seems likely that international students’ need for information on scholarships and funding will have only increased since the start of the pandemic.

Universities could aim to take away some of these concerns within their messaging by providing more information on topics such as visas, scholarships and funding, and on the number of contact hours and access to academic staff.

Universities will not only struggle to attract international students in the face of the coronacrisis, but the research by educations.com also suggests the competition for them will increase. Over two thirds of prospective students said they have applied or plan to apply for three or more schools, while only half of current students applied for more than two schools.

In the UK, 57% of year 12s are waiting until A level results day (13 August) before changing any of their university decisions. This will be a prime time to target this audience, but by then the circumstances related to Covid-19 are likely to be very different.

Fundamental L&D offers media and marketing solutions for clients across Higher Education, Business Education and Employer Branding

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