Why reliance on the same international markets isn’t working for universities in 2024

April 11, 2024

Ridhima Chatterjee

Recent data shows that UK universities’ reliance on markets with sizable populations such as India, Nigeria, and China might not be conducive to their international student recruitment efforts. This comes as a result of the UK’s immigration and visa policies as well as the cost of living crisis, factors which have made the UK less attractive to prospective students. 

In this opinion piece, we dive into the key trends and statistics that can inform your university’s marketing strategy. Here’s everything we’re going to cover: 

  1. Student enrollments from international markets in the year 2022-2023
  2. Key insights for Undergraduate vs. Postgraduate programs 
  3. The impact of the UK’s recent visa policy changes on international student recruitment
  4. Recommendations to create a marketing strategy informed by these insights 

Student enrollments from international markets (2022-2023)

In the intake year 2022-2023, the UK Home Office granted 486,107 student visas – an application increase of 2.3% from the previous year. The key markets students came from were India (133,237 students) and China (108,978 students) – making up a whopping 49.8% of the pie of total sponsored study visa grants. 

Countries such as Nepal, Iran, and Saudi Arabia ranked among the top 20 countries that received sponsored visas with an increase of 92%, 48.5%, and 35.7% in granted visas, respectively. The United States ranked among the top 5 countries with 14,603 granted visas.

Top 10 nationalities granted study visas in the year ending September 2023:

  1. India (133,237) 
  2. China (108,978) 
  3. Nigeria (51,071) 
  4. Pakistan (33,150)
  5. United States (14,603)
  6. Bangladesh (10,717) 
  7. Nepal (7,848)
  8. Saudi Arabia (6,368)
  9. Hong Kong (6,336)
  10. Sri Lanka (6,277)

While this paints the picture that markets such as India, Nigeria, and Pakistan seem to be promising for UK universities, it should be noted that students are now reconsidering the UK as their study destination in these countries. 

Here’s why:

  • 30% of all students who applied for the 2024-2025 intake and said that the UK was their final destination are now reconsidering their plans – this can cost the UK £2.1 Billion in student-generated revenue. 
  • 49% of prospective students who said that the UK was their first option and were planning to apply for the 2025-2026 intake are now reconsidering their plans to study in the UK. 
  • The most impacted markets are Nigeria and India with 44% and 24% of students reconsidering coming to the UK for further studies respectively.
  • Research shows that 28% of these students are now considering the United States for their study-abroad plans. 
  • EU countries are consistently sending fewer students to the UK. However, students from Ireland, France, Germany, and Italy continue to apply to the UK, albeit in lower numbers.
  • Visas granted to EEA and Swiss students increased by 614% with numbers totaling up to 1,571. 

This gives UK universities ample evidence of the shifting tides they must consider while developing their marketing strategies in source markets. 

Key insights for Undergraduate vs. Postgraduate programs 

While data for 2023 isn’t available, we know that there was an 11.9% increase in first-year undergraduates in 2021-2022 (Non-EU). On the other hand, EU first-year students decreased by 62.6% in 2021-2022.

There was a 31.8% increase in postgraduates in the same year, totaling 266,760 students (both EU and non-EU). Non-EU students made up 93.8% of all first-year postgraduate students in 2021-22.

Between 2020-2021, and 2021-2022, there’s been an increase of 42.8% in non-EU Postgraduate taught students while non-EU postgraduate research students increased by a mere 4.1%. EU PGR students decreased by 22.6% and 14% in both intake years respectively, signaling a consistent drop from these markets. 

Why international students are showing a declining interest in the UK: 
The impact of the UK’s recent visa policy changes on international student recruitment

The UK government’s new immigration policies for international students are a major reason for the declining interest in the UK as a study destination. Most students can no longer bring dependents to the UK (except for postgraduate research students), the salary threshold for the skilled worker visa has increased significantly and visa application fees and health surcharges are at an all-time high. 

The cost of living is another reason students are reconsidering the UK. With affordability as a top factor for choosing a study destination, the UK stands to lose incoming international students if universities do not proactively educate students about the benefits of studying in the country. 

Learn more about the impact of the UK’s recent visa policy changes on universities here.

So, which countries should you tap into? 
Recommendations from the Pink Orange Think Tank

Listening to students is always going to be our #1 tip but here are our top recommendations to come out of 2024 with more certainty, enrollments, and student satisfaction: 

  1. Reconsider international markets: It’s time to reconsider your source markets. If we learned anything from the devaluation of the Nigerian naira last year it is that universities must have an action plan ready for source markets that can be unpredictable. With declining interest from India and students choosing the United States over the UK, it’s clear that education institutions need to draw insights from the latest research instead of focusing on traditional markets, keep a tab on the economic situation of source markets, and pool-in student behavior insights that can predict upcoming enrollments. 
    Pro-tip: Look into upcoming source markets such as Hong Kong, Bangladesh, and Ghana. 
  1. Choose your marketing partner wisely: Many universities work with marketing agencies that may need to gain expertise in source markets. At Pink Orange, we’re proud to have launched over 300 successful campaigns for universities in 100+ markets. Understanding cultural nuance, economic landscapes, and student behavior has helped us launch campaigns that convert students through local language ads in markets where it is a proven strategy to acquire more qualified student leads. 
  1. Blending paid and agent-led marketing: In source markets where agents dominate the recruitment process, universities can bolster credibility by running paid campaigns that increase top-of-mind awareness. You can also equip agents with landing pages and other digital collaterals that will lead to more filled registration forms. 

And that’s a wrap! While most of the industry is learning to cope with these shifts in market trends and policies, we believe that this is an opportune moment for universities to reconsider their marketing strategy. And who knows? If you were to find a partner in us, maybe those enrollment targets wouldn’t seem like such a far-off dream!

We hope that you found this opinion piece insightful and we’ll see you in the next one, okay? Until then, give us a follow on LinkedIn to keep up with industry updates like this one. 


  1. https://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/universities-uk-international/explore-uuki/international-student-recruitment/international-student-recruitment-data
  2. https://studytravel.network/magazine/news/0/30443
  3. https://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/briefings/student-migration-to-the-uk/

Are you a marketer curious to learn about the aspects that affect our industry?

Or do you want to tap into our expertise to sharpen your tactics? Look no further than our free downloadable resources. We work hard to research our content - and offer it to you - free of charge.