Which international student concerns should universities address?

A student using their phone

Written by Laura Lightfinch, PR and Communication Manager, for QS Insights Magazine

The QS International Student Survey (ISS) 2023 captured the perceptions, motivations and expectations of over 116,000 students from 194 countries and territories to gain a holistic view of the demographics and trends of the next student cohort.

This year’s ISS reports illustrate clear trends in the expectations students have on universities to fulfil their evolving priorities in the areas that matter most to them.

What do prospective students want and expect from universities?

Alex Berka, QS Insights Manager, says: “QS student data consistently shows that students care deeply about topics like safety, equality, diversity and the economy of the country they’re studying in. By closely observing and analysing what students care about most, we’re able to provide resources to help institutions better support students in their decision-making.”

56 percent of respondents say that a high graduate employment rate is most important when assessing a university’s teaching quality.

Employability remains an important factor when choosing a course, with 51 percent of respondents saying that the most important factor is that it leads to their chosen career. A high rate of students going into their preferred industry (44 percent) and how soon students find employment after graduating (46 percent) also feature in the most important considerations for graduate outcomes.

It’s important that universities emphasise strong employability credentials as students are increasingly interested in the return on investment of their education. It’s essential that this information is clear and part of your institution’s brand narrative.

69 percent say that the cost of living worries them most about studying in a different country.

In Africa, where over half of respondents have a yearly income of USD$10,000 or less, that figure is even higher at 74 percent. Though, cost of living and the affordability of tuition fees are a worry for the majority of students across the globe.

Universities should consider the way that information about funding, scholarships, part-time work and affordability is presented to provide much-needed reassurance to students concerned about the rising cost of living.

59 percent expect a complete and personalised response to their enquiry within three days.

56 percent expect to receive notification of the outcome of their application within one week. That percentage has increased by two percent since 2022, suggesting that students are increasingly expecting shorter response times.

Many university enquiry teams are not currently meeting students’ expectations when it comes to response times or application communications. Institutions looking to increase student numbers must be prepared to manage higher enquiry and application numbers – without compromising on quality and personalisation. Scaling enquiry, admission and offer management with machine learning and other technical solutions can help to deliver the response times that students expect.

41 percent of prospective students have actively researched universities’ environmental sustainability strategy or efforts.

Almost two thirds of respondents said they are somewhat or extremely satisfied with the level of environmental action from the institutions they researched (63 percent).

One student said: “I was satisfied with the level of environmental action because the institutions I researched had clear and specific goals for reducing their carbon footprint and promoting sustainability. They also had a strong track record of implementing and achieving these goals, as well as regularly reporting on their progress to the public.”

Universities keen to implement stronger sustainability efforts or amplify messaging around sustainability could look to high-performing Canadian institutions for greater impact.

With data from the International Student Survey 2023, QS has produced ‘On your radar’ reports, which illustrate the motivations of students from regional source markets and ‘The recruitment edge’ reports, which show the motivations of students interested in key destination markets. Explore our regional reports.


We are inviting universities to take part in the QS International Student Survey 2024


Why take part?

• It’s free to participate.

• Shape the future: uncover international student recruitment updates on what drives undergraduate and postgraduate student decision-making.

• Research made easy: simply register to receive your unique survey link and share our pre-crafted emails with your international enquirers and applicants. We’ll do the rest.

• Bespoke benchmarking: as a thank you, receive a custom report comparing your results to the global landscape, pinpointing your strengths and areas for improvement.

• Open to institutions, business schools and education agents.

Sign up for industry insights

Receive the latest insights, expertise and commentary on the topics which matter most in higher education, straight to your inbox.

Sign up