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The international student experience in Europe – 2021 findings from the ISB

What makes an international student decide on an institution? And what makes them recommend that institution to prospective international students? Just two questions that universities across the globe are asking themselves. Two questions the International Student Barometer (ISB) helps answer, specifically for that institution and within a national, regional, global or bespoke benchmark to understand the comparison to other higher education institutions.  

If we look within Europe during the most recent ISB (September 2020 – February 2021), we notice future career impact (96%), reputation of the institution (94%) and specific course title (92%) form the top 3 of study decision factors.  

In general, international students in Europe are feeling welcome in their host study country, with 93% answering agree or strongly agree based on the experience of living in the host country. Europe outperforms the global benchmark in this area with 2%. Students have the feeling there is a friendly attitude at their institution (96%) and in the city or location where their institution is located, they experience a friendly attitude (94%) too, both average European scores outperforming the global benchmark. Why is this important? Rob Schepers, Marketing Analyst at the University of Twente explains:  

“The international student community is of great importance to the University of Twente. The international classroom is one of our spearheads and we wish to know about how our students appreciate all aspects of student life. And that is exactly the strength of the ISB. It's not just about education or the application procedure. The results give a good picture of all the important issues that international students have to deal with. Because of the (im)possibilities of last year, and perhaps the near future, this year’s results helped us a lot in gaining insights and we can act accordingly on the right themes. 

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Understanding what makes your students decide and what makes them recommend is based on a wide variety of reasons. And it is important to understand those drivers of choice and recommendation for your student cohort. In Europe overall, the top 3 for recommendation for international students are organisational aspects of a course, the quality of classes and employability (asked as ‘learning that will help me get a good job’).  

The importance of recommendation should definitely not be underestimated in this social media era, where the opinion of friends, is the 2nd most important influence on institution choice. On average the European institutions score well when it comes to value for money (77.8% vs global 74.6%), but in the arrival area there is, for certain topics, some room for improvement. The overall figure around arrival satisfaction is 2% below the global benchmark. Connecting international and domestic students is challenging for most institutions across the globe, European Higher Education Institutions seem to struggle specifically with social activities and introductions to clubs and societies.  

Artturi Roitto, Senior Specialist Data Analysis & Organizational Foresight at the University of Oulu was very specific:  

“There are many reasons why the views and opinions of our international students are so important to us. New ideas and connections to different cultures around the world must be the biggest ones. We are committed to spreading and sharing knowledge in not just our own country, but across seas and borders. As a country Finland has chosen a strategy that increases the training of our academic professionals, making the domestic environment even more competitive. Now and especially in the future, international student markets are a vital source of motivated and skilled students. We want to do all that’s necessary to be an as appealing place to study as possible in an effort to attract these new generations of knowledge seekers. 

To understand what makes international students decide on an institution, a region or a country is the key to the successful internationalisation of Higher Education. European institutions have fared well in many aspects, such as students feeling welcome in their host country and value for money. However, some areas have arguably underperformed, particularly in comparison with the global benchmark. Notable here is the online learning experience, where on average the European institutions have performed less well in the majority of aspects when compared with global averages.  

Those Higher Education Institutions that have the insight afforded by the ISB are in a strong position to react appropriately to variances in student satisfaction and bounce back from the impact of the pandemic in more robust fashion than their competitors. It is hoped institutions globally are able to make the right decisions to give the current and future set of students the experience to meet, if not exceed their expectations. 

This article forms part of the 2021 report, The Global Student Experience – 2021 insights and analysis from the world’s largest student survey. 

2021 insights and analysis from the world’s largest student survey