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5th July 2024

A Closer Look at UK International Students

For most students, the primary factor in choosing to study in the UK is the quality of education

We examine the current state of the international student market in the UK by summarising data from Universities UK and the QS International Graduate Outcomes Survey. This review provides key insights into trends, challenges, and opportunities within the sector.

In 2021-22, the UK welcomed well over 600,000 international students, reaching the government’s target set by the International Education Strategy ahead of the 2030 deadline. These students represented 24% of the total student body, with international students comprising 15% of undergraduates and 45% of postgraduates. However, there are indications of a slight decline in international student numbers in 2023 and early 2024. Student visas issued reached a record high of around 484,000 in 2022 and decreased by 5% in 2023. Despite these slight changes, international education continues to be a vital part of the UK higher education system.

The UK’s growth has been impressive globally. According to the latest UNESCO data (2022), the UK is the second most popular destination for international students with 630,000. The United States was the top  destination with 950,000 students and Canada third with 550,000 students.

The Graduate Outcomes Survey

The International Graduate Outcomes Survey 2024, managed by QS, involved 10,500 international students who graduated between 2019 and 2023 from 37 different institutions across the UK. Here are the big takeaways:

1. International graduates highly value their UK study experience, recognising that the high-quality education they receive leads to positive career opportunities and progression. Most find employment soon after graduation and are satisfied with their roles and benefits.

2. For most students, the primary factor in choosing to study in the UK is the quality of education and its alignment with their career goals. However, for US students, culture and lifestyle take precedence. Secondary motivations differ by region: Chinese and European students prioritise language improvement, Indian, Nigerian, and Pakistani students appreciate the welcoming environment, and US students are drawn to the lower tuition fees.

3. UK universities could improve career support services and placement opportunities.

There is a gap in the expectation vs reality of what UK universities deliver on career support and it is evidenced at a macro level, with UK universities scoring an average of 22 out of 100 for Employment Outcomes (QS World University Rankings 2024) – lower than Australia (26), Canada (34) and the United States (28).

In addition, only 3% said they used university career support to find their first job after graduating. UEL example states that International students often use the service to find part-time work during their studies.

4. The Graduate Route visa has strengthened the connection between international students, employers, and universities. Those who remain in the UK for post-study work often find work in education (15%), healthcare (10%), Finance (7%), and many other industries contributing significantly to UK society and driving economic growth.

The proportion of respondents who have remained in the UK using the Graduate route visa has more than doubled since 2021. Students who remain in the UK (about 40% return to their home country immediately after graduating) on the Graduate route visa are more likely to be satisfied with their careers.

5.  For undergraduates, the average salary for international students is £31,600, compared to £33,300 for postgraduates.

6. International graduates who have studied in the UK feel a strong and positive connection to the country. This connection makes them significantly more likely to do business with the UK in the future, highlighting the valuable economic and reputational benefits that UK higher education brings to the country.


QS Recommendations for Universities:

Career Support:

Enhance the range and quality of career support services for international students.  Also supporting international students in their early careers both in the UK and their home countries.

Employer Skills:

Collaborate with employers to integrate essential skills into the curriculum.

Graduate Route Visa:

Partner with the government to maximise the benefits of the GRV. The data shows that the GRV is an important factor in the UK’s competitiveness.


Share Alumni stories and nurture alumni connections to the institution, city, and the UK, and encourage them to become lifelong partners.


Ensure international students feel welcome in UK cities and campuses. Celebrate diversity and promote diverse backgrounds making inclusivity a clear strength of the UK education sector.

If you’re looking to develop your international student recruitment growth strategies then contact marketing@hunterlodge.co.uk for more.

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