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Do international students see UK tuition fees as good value for money?

Jamie Laird, Head of Market Intelligence – EMEA, 26 October 2017
According to QS Top Universities, the average international student to the UK now pays anywhere up to £35,000 per year in tuition fees. With perceptions of value playing such an important role in the decision-making process, as consistently shown in our annual International Student Survey, we wanted to explore how favourably international students perceive UK tuition fees, how the UK compares against other major study destinations, and how value for money perceptions differ across different groups of international students.

Between 21 September and 12 October 2017, QS Enrolment Solutions (formerly Hobsons Solutions) heard from over 1,000 prospective or current international students to the UK in response to an online survey.

Our key findings are that:
  • International students generally see tuition fees charged by UK universities as offering good value for money.
  • Germany and Canada are perceived as offering as good or better value for money, and therefore pose a significant challenge to UK international student recruitment.
  • Anecdotally, the good quality of education offered by UK universities is an important factor in this favourable perception.
  • Postgraduate international students generally see the UK as better value for money than undergraduates.
  • Mature international students generally see the UK as better value for money than younger students.
  • EU students have a significantly less favourable perception of the value of UK tuition fees than international students from other regions.

International students generally see tuition fees charged by UK universities as offering good value for money.
59% of international students considering or studying in the UK say tuition fees in the country are good or very good value for money. Just 16% say UK tuition fees are poor or very poor value for money, giving the UK a net score of +42. Since our survey was taken by students considering or already studying in the UK, the comparisons with other destinations in the chart below show us the perceptions of this specific group, rather than all international students globally.



Germany and Canada are perceived as offering good or better value for money, and therefore pose a significant challenge to UK international student recruitment.
In this context, Germany, with a net score of +50, can be seen as a very strong competitor to the UK in the international student recruitment market. Our analysis suggests that, on the whole, international students who are considering or studying in the UK actually see Germany more favourably than the UK in terms of tuition fee value for money. Canada, with a net score of +42, matches the UK in net favourability, while Australia (+30), New Zealand (+27) and the USA (+23) all have lower net favourability.

Anecdotally, the good quality of education offered by UK universities is an important factor in this favourable perception. Some respondents to our survey provided a short free-text summary of why they see the UK as good value for money, and a word frequency analysis of this data gives us some rough indications of why UK tuition fees are generally seen as value for money. Words like “good”, “education” and “quality” stand out.



Postgraduate international students generally see the UK as better value for money than undergraduates.
Comparing the results by level of study shows that postgraduate international students had a more favourable view of the value of UK tuition fees (+46) than undergraduate international students (+36).



Mature international students generally see the UK as better value for money than younger students.
Older international students also tend to have a better perception of the value of UK tuition fees than younger students. The UK’s net favourability among under 20s is +27, rising to +39 among 20-25 year olds and +53 among 26-30 year olds.



EU students have a significantly less favourable perception of the value of UK tuition fees than international students from other regions.
Comparing the results by region also paints an interesting picture: EU students have a much weaker perception of the value of UK tuition fees (+17) than other regions, with Africa for example scoring significantly higher at +60. Given that EU students currently pay the same as domestic students, and significantly less than non-EU students, this is a somewhat surprising finding.



Better qualified teaching staff and higher graduate employment might convince international students to pay higher fees
Our survey also explored what additional benefits universities considering higher international student tuition fees would need to offer to assure prospective students they offer good value for money. The results give an indication of what international students would be willing to pay more for. 78% said better qualified staff would be something they would pay more for, 74% said high graduate employment ratings would be worth a higher fee, while 70% said higher rankings would justify a higher fee.



Taken as a whole, this analysis shows that while the UK does enjoy a generally favourable perception of the value of tuition fees among international students, some groups – particularly younger undergraduate students, see the UK less favourably, and destinations such as Canada and Germany represent significant competition to UK international student recruitment, with their tuition fees seen as offering equal or better value for money than the UK.

Further research could be done to understand how international students define value for money. Our previous research shows us that there is much that universities can do to appeal to international students by demonstrating the strength of their offer through illustrating the student satisfaction levels, teaching quality and how welcoming they are. Universities need to respond dynamically to the strategic challenges that higher education faces. At QS Enrolment Solutions, we will continue to play our part in providing insights and solutions to support the sector.

Survey Information
QS Enrolment Solutions (formerly Hobsons Solutions) conducted an online survey of international students considering or already studying in three major study destinations: the UK, Australia and New Zealand. The survey was conducted between 21 September and 12 October 2017 and 2,731 qualifying responses were received across all destinations – a response rate of 9.2%. 1,078 respondents were either interested in or currently studying in the UK. The expected or currently paid tuition fee bands for UK respondents were as follows – Less than £10K: 51%, £10-20K: 33%, More than £20K: 7%, Don’t know/prefer not to say: 9%.