We must take action to ensure London remains the world’s top study destination

Published 04/04/2024

There’s been lots of talk about the need for a coordinated effort to ensure that the UK remains competitive in a tough market.

We’ve seen drops in international student applications and conversions over the past year in particular, and a few weeks ago at The PIE Live Europe we heard from IDP in the opening plenary on how other countries are doing in relation to the UK.

Following this, at London Higher we hosted our own roundtable with colleagues at ApplyBoard, which ran a comparative analysis on the top four destinations (London, Toronto, Sydney and New York), over four topics: Policy, Process, Place and Price.

The picture was similar, with a sample of 10 universities in the capital that typically attract nearly 10,000 applications for a January intake, seeing a 30% year over year decline in organic demand in January 2024.

The message was clear: we must do more to remain at the top.

At London Higher our focus is London, and the city is home to over 179,000 international students. This is almost a third of all international students studying in the UK.

These students bring us significant benefits, with the net economic impact of the 2021/22 cohort of international students in London on the UK economy being £9.59 billion, equating to an average net impact in the capital of £131 million per constituency, equivalent to £1,040 per resident.

This is almost double the contribution per member of the resident population nationally.

And of course there are non-quantifiable benefits in the form of incredible soft power, cultural diversity and contributions to local communities.

So, what can we do?

When universities market themselves they speak about their brand, facilities, student societies, courses, reputation. This is great if a student is familiar with the institution, and familiar with the city they will be coming to.

But we think that one thing is missing, especially for those who have never been to the UK or to London – the student experience. Not in university accommodation or classes, but within the wider city and country.

London is rich in music, culture, art, nightlife, and each borough has something different to offer. The capital also has promising career prospects, with a degree from a university in the city creating opportunities for students back in their home countries, and also right here in London and elsewhere in the UK.

“We know that London is often the gateway to the rest of the UK and we want to capitalise on that“

So, we’re relaunching the Study London campaign to create a concerted effort to encourage students to consider the city as a study destination, arming them with knowledge about life in the capital and busting myths about preconceptions they might hold.

We want to ultimately restore confidence in London as a safe and welcoming city and show the true cultural diversity and inclusivity of the capital, and by extension the UK.

We couldn’t do any of this without our partner, ApplyBoard. Our partnership will ensure that it is easier than ever before for international students to explore, apply to and enrol in London’s universities and higher education institutions, and for us to measure and evaluate what works and what doesn’t.

For us, this is about the whole country, not just London. We know that the capital is often the gateway to the rest of the UK and we want to capitalise on that.

We will see it as a success if students apply to London universities as a result of the campaign, but we will also see it as a success if they apply anywhere else in the UK.

The Study London campaign will launch in June, with a multi-channel approach used to showcase all that our capital city has to offer.

About the author: Anna Zvagule is head of Communications at London Higher.

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