Political Shifts See Potential International Students Turning Their Backs on The US And UK

Latest GMAC study suggests changes in immigration policy are having an impact on international students' choice of where to study

The latest Graduate Management Admissions Council report, which surveyed more than 11,500 prospective graduate business students, shows that while demand for international study remains strong, results in the US election and the UK Brexit vote have had an effect on candidates’ preferences.

Nearly 60 per cent of the prospective business school students surveyed said they intended to study abroad, up from 44 per cent in 2009.

This shows the high demand for international study, which the report reveals is driven by a desire for higher-quality education, international employment and a chance to expand international connections.

While several regions are growing in their popularity, with Canada and East and Southeast Asia up 3 per cent and Western Europe up 4 per cent in popularity, showing an increase in competition, the UK and the US have seen a fall.

The US still remains the most preferred destination for candidates looking to study abroad, but preferences are shifting. 58% of potential full-time MBA candidates looking to study abroad prefer to study in the US, but this is down from 61% in 2009.

Similarly, early indications are that Brexit may negatively impact international candidates’ desire to apply to UK business schools.

Of nearly 1,300 non-UK GMAT test takers surveyed in December 2016, 45 per cent indicated that the Brexit vote has made them less likely to study in the UK.

With 58% of all students surveyed claiming that international employment is one of the biggest drivers for studying abroad, it’s easy to see why any change in immigration policy would have an impact on a country’s desirability as a study location.

Other findings in the report show a continued increase in the popularity of non-MBA business master’s programs.

Globally, the amount of students considering only taking a specialized business master’s degree is up from 15 per cent in 2009, to 23 per cent in 2016.

Tellingly, those applying to specialized non-MBA programs skew younger than those applying for MBA programs. Many of these applicants have little to no previous work experience and seek technical skills.

“These findings demonstrate that a business master’s degree is not necessarily the end of graduates’ business education,” said Sangeet Chowfla, president and CEO of GMAC.

“For many, their business master’s degree is a stepping stone to continued professional development that may include an MBA down the road, in either a full-time or part-time format.”

Perhaps most unsurprisingly, the biggest obstacle reported by potential students to undertaking any type of graduate business education is finance.

52 per cent of candidates surveyed said they did not have enough money to pay for their education and 47 per cent claimed that taking on large debts may prevent them from pursuing a graduate business degree at all.

The report reflects a decline in traditional funding avenues such as bank loans and employer assistance, with a greater share of candidates looking elsewhere for financial aid when compared with 2009.

Potential candidates hoping to cover fees with grants, fellowships and scholarships are now at the highest level since GMAC surveys started.

Those in developing economies in Africa, Eastern Europe, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East are most dependent on these sources of funding, so it’s easy to see why alternative funding avenues such as peer to peer international lending platform Prodigy Finance and crowd funding have grown in popularity.

With funding a known issue for potential students and other regions becoming more competative, one way the report suggests US and UK schools can stay desirable by ensuring they offer value, financial aid and scholarships alongside their high-level education.

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