Top Universities for International Students

In a new report, 'Pathways from K-12 English-medium International Schools to University 2018', the Independent Schools Consultancy has revealed the top destinations for study, and the reasons why.
Top Universities for International Students
By David Westley
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The USA currently heads the list of university destinations for international school students  from around the world, with the UK coming in second and Canada third. In 2017, ISC reported the UK as the top destination with the US at number two. Canada remained third.

Completing the Top 10, in order, are: Netherlands, Spain, Australia, Germany, Japan, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE falls into the Top 10 because its education system is dominated by independent schools, and there has been considerable effort made to keep its students in the country for tertiary education. 

The findings were released by the Independent Schools Consultancy, ISC, in a new report - "Pathways from K-12 English-medium International Schools to University 2018".

The report also looked into the motivations for choosing a university destination country. These were, in order of importance:

  1. Location of the university
  2. Quality of education provision
  3. Cost
  4. Visa benefits before/after degree
  5. Ranking of the university
  6. Safety of the country
  7. Promotion by university to students
  8. Experience of friends and peers
  9. Country experience other than study
  10. Employment/career prospects

Countries looking to up their game in terms of attracting international students need to think clearly about their target's Return on Investment. This can be measured by offsetting cost, with a combination of employability post study, salary post study, and increasingly the opportunities to remain in the country to work after the student has completed their degree.

According to the ISC report, the top 10 university destinations for international school leavers in 2018 were:

  1. University of British Colombia Canada
  2. University of Toronto Canada
  3. University College London (UCL) UK
  4. King’s College London UK
  5. New York University USA
  6. McGill University Canada
  7. University of Amsterdam The Netherlands
  8. University of Warwick UK
  9. Imperial College London UK
  10. University of Manchester UK

Five of the Top 10 are in the UK, three in Canada, and one in both the USA and the Netherlands.

While Australia and South Korea both ranked in the top 10 country destinations for international students, individual universities in these two countries were not ranked in the top 50 universities. The University of Melbourne in Australia and Korea University in South Korea are the highest-ranking universities (joint 112th) in these two countries.

Similarly, while universities in Hong Kong, Italy and Mexico ranked in the top 50 university destinations for international students, these three countries were not ranked in the top 10 country destinations.

A number of specialist universities feature in the top 100 university destinations for English- medium international school students, including Warsaw Medical University in Poland, University of the Arts in London, Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, University of Music and Performing Arts in Austria, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Eidenhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, Music and Arts University in the City of Vienna in Austria, Royal College of Surgeons in the UK and Fashion Institute of Technology in the United States, among others.

The Top 10 US universities for international school students in 2018 were:

  1. New York University
  2. Boston University
  3. Northeastern University
  4. University of California, Berkeley
  5. University of Washington
  6. Stanford University
  7. University of California, Davis
  8. University of Southern California
  9. Brown University
  10. Emory University

The Top 10 UK universities for international school students were:

  1. University College London
  2. King’s College London
  3. University of Warwick
  4. Imperial College London
  5. University of Manchester
  6. 6=University of Edinburgh
  7. 6= University of Exeter
  8. London School of Economics and Political Science
  9. Queen Mary University of London
  10. University of Bath

Respondents were asked to rank six specific factors influencing their students’ university choices. In order of importance the results were:

  1. School’s advice and guidance
  2. Student’s own research
  3. Family advice and guidance
  4. University rep’s visit/communication with school
  5. Friends/peers’ positive experience of the university
  6. Attending university fairs

One in two international school college counsellors contacted by the report's authors said that universities from more countries were now promoting their degrees to the school and its students. However the single biggest driver of growth in international students studying abroad, across the board, results from the symbiotic relationship between international tertiary study and international schools in the local market.

According to the ISC Pathways report:

"To achieve a place at a university in the US, the UK or Canada (currently the three most popular destinations for tertiary level student mobility), international students face increasingly tough competition from their peers.

"As such, they [students and their parents] are seeking more than just good grades from their local national school. To acquire the high level of competence in the English language necessary to study a subject at degree level, and to achieve qualifications recognised by the best universities around the world, wealthy and middle-income local families are orienting themselves to international schools for their children’s education needs.

"This, they feel, provides the best opportunities for their children to gain admission at a quality, global university."

80% of the student population now enrolled at international schools are local nationals - not expats.

What's more the overall numbers of students in international schools is still growing.

Asia has greatest number of international schools offering secondary education. In May 2018, the total number of international schools in Asia teaching students aged between 16 and 18 years old in Asia was 2,711. Europe had 1,002 schools and the Americas had 881 schools covering this teaching phase.

In terms of students approaching university, China has the highest number of schools teaching students aged between 16 and 18 years old, but is the third largest market for this age group when measured by the number of international students.

The UAE tops the list of most students in international students between 16 and 18, with typically larger international schools catering for more students.

The report also notes the very high percentage of international school leavers having the grades for university.

The IB Diploma average for all students in all school types worldwide in 2018 was 29.782. For international schools it was 33 - a sufficient point score for many Redbrick universities in the UK.

The Average AP exam score for students in the ISC study of international schools, 2018 (sample of 141 schools, 24 AP exams) was 3.6. The Average AP exam score for students in all school types worldwide, 2018 (sample of ~21,000 schools, 5.1 million AP exams) was 2.89.

In terms of A Levels, International school students in the ISC study achieving A or A* grades 31.5%. All school students in UK achieving A or A* grades was 26.4%.

Somewhat unsurprisingly given these headline results, according to the report, over 90% of last year’s grade 12 students (academic year 2017–18) at international schools globally gained university places.

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