In a competitive market, this makes a significant difference: given the choice between a higher ranking university and one with better-rated teaching quality and student satisfaction, international students prefer the latter.
But what happens to international students when they return home? How do they put what they learned into practice, and how are they ambassadors for their UK experience? We spoke to two finalists of the 2017 Alumni Awards to find out.
Usman Qamar is Assistant Professor at the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) in Islamabad. His work focuses on creating data-driven systems for use in healthcare diagnostics.
Through his work at the Manchester Institute for Biotechnology (MIB), Usman came to see how the University of Manchester's research across the sciences has had a real-world impact in partnership with the NHS, an approach which he has taken back to Pakistan.
Manchester's scientific heritage is what drew Usman to study there in 2002. "During high school, I came to know that James Prescott Joule, [the] first person to prove that heat is a form of energy… came from Manchester. And that's when I said I would like to go to Manchester for higher education."
What kept Usman in Manchester for the next nine years was the balance between university and city life, and the university's global status. Despite being a very large university, he says Manchester is "compact enough to give the best of both worlds: city life and a campus community" and the diversity of the student body makes it "truly a global institution."
Usman's experience is far from unusual: in a 2015 study, many international alumni reported that studying in the UK developed their ability to communicate with people from a wide range of cultures, and increased their general cultural sensitivity.
The MIB's collaboration with the NHS inspired Usman's work with the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in developing a diagnostic application for doctors called Intellihealth. Usman says Manchester taught him that universities "are more than simply education or research establishments, they are an engine of change for society."
Tsz Kwan (TK) Chan is an artist and gallery owner who lives and works in Hong Kong. Her work is inspired by the Scottish landscape which she explored throughout her time studying design at undergraduate and postgraduate level.
It would be difficult to think of two places more different than the rugged landscape of the Scottish countryside and the bustling metropolis of Hong Kong, and it is this contrast which has influenced the development of TK as an artist and entrepreneur.
The UK's stunning landscapes make a big impression on students from around the world, and TK says when she arrived in Scotland, it was "like walking into a garden." She was particularly struck by the country's preservation of its heritage, from environmental protection schemes to the way historic buildings have been adapted to modern use.
TK has retained her connections to Scotland since moving back to Hong Kong in 2010, and through her gallery, BLINK, she has forged a unique relationship between the art scenes in Scotland and Hong Kong. BLINK was the first gallery from Hong Kong to exhibit as part of the world-famous Edinburgh Festival Fringe: "We brought Hong Kong artists' artworks to Scotland and showcased it across different venues at the festival. Some of the art has found its permanent home in Scotland too." The relationship goes both ways, as BLINK Gallery promotes the work of Scottish artists in Hong Kong and across Asia.
Usman and TK's stories are two examples of how studying in the UK can be a transformational experience, leading to new collaborations and links between the UK and other countries. As authentic voices, alumni can be strong ambassadors for a UK education and demonstrate how UK institutions provide a depth of learning which has a long-lasting influence upon individuals, their careers, and communities.
The Study UK Alumni Awards find and celebrate the outstanding stories of UK university alumni whose education has contributed to their success. If you know someone who studied in the UK in the last 15 years, who is now living outside the UK and doing amazing things, encourage them to apply.