Covid Impacting Uni Choices, but not in the UAE

The Cambridge exam board's annual survey reveals increasing evidence that value for money and financial considerations are increasingly important in determining university destinations. According to EdStatica.com the UAE has remained more shielded from economic forces affecting student decisions elsewhere.
Covid Impacting Uni Choices, but not in the UAE
By David Westley
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The Cambridge exam board's annual survey reveals increasing evidence that value for money and financial considerations are increasingly important in determining university destinations. According to EdStatica.com the UAE has remained more shielded from economic forces affecting student decisions elsewhere.

The Cambridge Student Destinations Survey is sent to schools around April each year, with results published in October, for the previous academic year. The EdStatica.com data uses surveys running on WhichSchoolAdvisor.com through the year. It is open to all senior students in the UAE, UK, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and Vietnam.

According to Cambridge, financial hardship is the key driver for students feeling the impact of Covid-19. As a result students are either consider studying closer to home, or choosing overseas study destinations perceived to offer more value for money. In the European Union specifically Brexit has made the UK a considerably more expensive destination, meaning more students considering alternative destinations.

In the United Arab Emirates however, EdStatica.com reveals the UK has retained its place as the most popular destination for students. It accounts for one in three respondents asked to choose their preferred destination - a figure that is unmoved in 2022 YTD from 2021. The UAE as its own destination has strengthened its position moving up 4% to 15% of respondents, with India and Canada seemingly the countries seeing the switchers. Canada is down from 13% to 7%, while respondents favouring India has fallen from 9% to 4%.

Outside the UAE the trend towards studying closer to home has been a much stronger force. Hong Kong universities have recorded a surge in Chinese students from the mainland. The trend comes after strict travel restrictions during the pandemic have deterred Chinese students from travelling abroad, for example to Britain, Australia and the United States, where many have sought to gain a degree. 

That said, the traditional English-speaking destinations of the UK, USA, Canada and Australia are still the most overwhelmingly popular destinations for Cambridge students wanting to study overseas. A total of 61 per cent of its students who choose to study overseas go to university in one of these countries.

According to the Cambridge survey, globally there is evidence the range of countries students are considering is becoming broader. In recent years the Netherlands has been working to position itself to attract more international students. Its survey shows it was the top destination among Cambridge schools in Europe who responded to the survey. In the UAE, according to EdStatica.com, Germany is the biggest continental European destination for students expressing a preference, just pipping the Netherlands with 4% vs 3% of respondents.

In Asia, students who want to study abroad but stay closer to home are considering Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore according to Cambridge. 

The top ten undergraduate degree subjects chosen by Cambridge students show a strong interest in STEM (scientific, technical, engineering and mathematics) subjects and related professions: Engineering, Business & management, Computer Science / ICT, Accounting & Finance, Medicine, Economics, Biological Sciences, Law, Mathematics and Psychology.

EdStatica.com does not ask this question, but does ask about the drivers for university destinations. The cost of living in the destination country has increased as a consideration by 50%, but still only accounts for 4% of the total number of 2022 respondents. The UAE has perhaps been better shielded from the economic ravages of Covid. The biggest drivers in university destinations for its students are the university being "Well known for what I want to study" (53%), and the "University is prestigious" (11%). Both responses are down year on year however.  On the up are "Post study employability and salary (up two percent to 9%),  getting the rights to work in that country (up one percent to 4%) and being "closer to my family" (up one percent to 6%). 

89% of respondents to the EdStatica survey in 2022 YTD say they want to go to university. This figure has been rising through the Covid period. Pre-Covid (2019), 78% of respondents said they intended to go to university, with 18% "unsure". The gap year is clearly a Covid-19 victim. 

About the data

296 schools from 51 countries took part in the Cambridge Student Destinations Survey 2021.

The EdStatica.com data uses surveys running on WhichSchoolAdvisor.com. It is open to all senior students in the UAE, UK, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and Vietnam. The strongest data is for the UAE where just under 2,000 students have so far taken part. 

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