Britain's Higher Education Empire

December 11, 2013 | REPORT

OC&C Strategy Consultants and Google urge UK universities to capitalise on this opportunity, as 1.7 million international students set to pursue a British degree by 2020

UK universities are well placed to reap the benefits of the continuing growth in demand for a British higher education. Fee income from international students is expected to increase by about 10% per annum to £12 billion in 2020 - according to a new report published today by OC&C Strategy Consultants in collaboration with Google.

Britain’s Higher Education Empire forecasts future trends based on a number of sources including Google search data for the last three academic years across the 50 most important overseas markets for international students. The analysis reveals that international students who choose to pursue higher education in the UK are expected to generate £7 billion in fee income by 2020. In addition, students taking degrees through distance learning programmes and at international branch campuses represent a growing opportunity for British universities, with the potential of generating an additional £5 billion of fee income by 2020.

Between 2010 and 2012, Google searches in Britain for the top-50 UK universities (based on The Times Good University Guide rankings) grew by only 1% per annum, while searches from abroad increased by 10% per annum, showing that international students will become an increasingly important source of revenue for British universities.

Mark Jeynes, Partner at OC&C and author of the report, said: “Britain’s universities are highly sought after by international students and many universities already have well thought-through strategies in place to capitalise on this opportunity. However, those institutions that haven’t considered internationalisation as a priority need to mobilise quickly to avoid being left behind. They need to adopt a more entrepreneurial approach to management and have a clear strategy and vision for internationalisation with dedicated resources.”

The study also reveals that the UK is second only to the US as the most popular study destination, based on Google search activity. Students are looking beyond heritage UK brands, such as Oxbridge and Imperial College London, which regularly feature in the top-five most searched for institutions from overseas. Universities that have been pursuing an international growth strategy - such as The Open University, which isn’t featured in The Times Good University Guide Top 50 due to its unique operating model, and Heriot-Watt University, 42nd in The Times Good University Guide Top 50 - feature amongst the top-ten most searched for universities from abroad.

David Black, Director at Google UK, said: “British higher education institutions are among the best in the world, and many are already pursuing effective internationalisation strategies. This reports highlights that there is a significant increase in the volume of searches for British universities from overseas. Our higher education institutions can use search data to identify pockets of demand and move quickly to meet the needs of prospective students. What’s particularly interesting is that smaller universities outside the heritage brands can also drive student enrolments from international markets.”

Mark Jeynes continued: “As well as honing their digital marketing skills, universities are developing a host of new capabilities to succeed in their quest for international expansion. Firstly, developing and offering a range of programmes, content and delivery mechanisms to suit new markets is key. Secondly, universities need to develop strong but flexible partnerships in local markets to ensure their offering is competitive and attuned to local needs. For example, the University of London’s International Programmes enables international students to study for a prestigious qualification without leaving their home country. Degree programmes developed by the University of London Colleges can be studied by distance learning or flexible learning, through a local independent teaching institution. Finally, universities should also consider allocating dedicated resources focusing on international expansion – for example, opening up new positions such as ‘Dean for International’ to act as an internal lobbyist and canvas support from stakeholders.”

Supporting Case Study

The Open University
The Open University is a world leader in educational innovation, committed to widening access to Higher Education around the world. Since its establishment in 1969 it has taught more than 1.8 million students, combining scale with exceptional quality. The University has recently strengthened its international footprint by creating a dedicated team to promote its high quality distance learning programmes overseas.  
  • Britain’s Higher Education Empire ranking: 6th
  • Proportion of international students enrolled: 18%
  • The Times Good University Guide Ranking: n/a
Steve Hill, Commercial Director at The Open University said:
“International demand for UK Higher Education is huge – and growing – which is why so many international students currently choose to study with The Open University. To meet this demand, we’re working with Google to develop our digital marketing capability to ensure we’re reaching those international students whose needs can best be met by The Open University’s flexible study model. Combining this approach with a clear understanding of our international students and innovative delivery methods, we are confident we can enjoy continuing success in our recruitment of oversees students”.

- ENDS -

OC&C analysed Google search data relating to the 2010/11, 2011/12 and 2012/13 academic years, focusing on the top- 50 source markets for inbound international students studying in the UK and the top- 50 UK universities, based on The Times Good University Guide rankings.  Google search data was also analysed for the top- 100 universities globally, based on the World University Rankings published by Times Higher Education.  Both the volume of search activity and the historic growth in search activity was evaluated to rank universities based on Google search activity.  Google search activity was also analysed at the subject level for undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.