Real-time data shows positive policy helping UK offset decline in EU demand

13 July 2017

Katie Duncan

Head of Communications
Hotcourses Group

​There was an immediate spike in interest for UK higher education among prospective EU students following the government announcement on April 21 that Europeans would remain eligible for financial support in 2018-19. Each year, 34 million prospective students search Hotcourses Group's international sites. Data from these searches reveal that while European demand for the UK is down year-on-year, in the last few months it has reclaimed market share. The positive policy announcement has caught the interest of students from the continent, as they seek access to loans and domestic student fees in the UK, while they know they’re still eligible.

In the two months since the funding was secured, European demand for the UK rose by 2.3%, which is nearly four times greater than the US increase and 11 times greater than Australian growth, as shown in Figure 1. The most impressive revelation however, is that the UK has increased its market share by twice the amount that Ireland's has decreased. This is especially encouraging given the boom in searches Ireland has enjoyed in the year since the Brexit vote, as revealed in a report released by Hotcourses Group last week. Ireland almost doubled its European share from 11.4% to 20.9%, while the UK lost 6%, a statistic felt on the ground as UCAS reported a 5% drop in EU applications earlier this year.

Figure 1: Demand from the EU, by destination market share

The past 12 months hasn't just been about Brexit of course. Trump, the travel ban and Trudeau have all contributed to the US falling year-on-year by 3.8% and 5.7% in global and European market share respectively. Meanwhile, Canada, with its supportive arm of government, has more than doubled both global and European market share from 4.9% to 11.3% and from 2.7% to 4.7%.

The real-time nature of the data means the impact of specific events on online student behaviour can be tracked even the day after and this is where we see US politics start to help the UK. Prospective students from Iran, Syria, Yemen and Saudi Arabia all turned their searches away from the States following Trump signing the executive order on the travel ban and towards the UK, which has helped buffer the impact of Brexit.

There is even more positivity to be found when looking at overall search figures. The UK might be down year-on-year in EU market share, but volumes are up by 18,391 searches. Political uncertainty is the backdrop for a more globally competitive market, which has opened up the playing field and left the UK with a smaller piece of a bigger pie.

Opportunity can also be found when we break down demand by country level. Despite Brexit, searches from prospective students in France to the UK rose 1% in the past year and by 6.9% when comparing the two months before and after the funding announcement. Belgians were also quick to act on the announcement and UK searches jumped 13.1%. The spike was less severe for Italians but UK searches had an increase, nonetheless, of 5.2%.

Whether the government is supportive of our sector or not, the data is telling us that an insatiable appetite for UK higher education is still very much there. The data has also proved that there are pockets of opportunity in tumultuous times. In the meantime, institutions should work with Universities UK to lobby government and seek to reassure students through far-reaching campaigns like #WeAreInternational. The sector should collectively act on instances such as the EU funding announcement and make sure positive messaging reaches those students now reconsidering the UK. The quicker the government makes decisions around funding and immigration, the more efficiently universities can work together to maintain demand from talented international students who bring a diverse cultural perspective and richness to campuses throughout the UK.

The data from this blog was taken from the Hotcourses International Insights Tool which draws on data from 34m annual student searches.

Our team


Measuring transnational education: changes to the TNE data landscape

10 May 2021
Eduardo Ramos, Head of TNE and Griff Ryan, Transnational Education Projects Officer share insights on the new data on UUKi's Scale of TNE interactive webpage.

You can’t create virtual exchange overnight: what we have learnt from moving international experiences online

20 April 2021
Leo Smith, Head of Global Mobility at De Montfort University shares reflections from moving mobility experiences online during the pandemic.