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Overseas agents relegate UK to third most desirable study destination

Canada has marginally overtaken the UK as the second most attractive study destination in the world, according to a new survey of overseas education agents.

Better marketing and improved visa processes have helped Canada move slightly ahead of Britain in a popularity table topped by the United States, according to the agents who help recruit international students for universities and English language colleges.

Almost 1,200 agents from 117 countries were questioned in the seventh annual ICEF i-graduate survey. The US was voted as a "very attractive" study destination by 73 per cent, while Canada was mentioned by 64 per cent and the UK by 63 per cent -- a one percentage point drop from last year putting it in third place. Australia came in fourth at 53 per cent and New Zealand in fifth was mentioned by 33 per cent.

More than half of agents (51 per cent) pinpointed the UK as the country where they experienced the most visa obstacles, reflecting stricter controls on international students introduced in 2012.

Problems were also experienced with Canada (48 per cent), where the visa system was affected by a public service sector strike, and Australia (43 per cent), where private-sector providers were barred from a streamlined visa process.

Visas were also the main area of concern for students and their parents, according to agents.
The importance of “effective communications” with institutions was once again cited by agents as paramount to successful partnerships.

Also crucial were quick response times to enquiries and applications, an up-to-date agents’ manual with fees and information, and regular updates on the progress of applications.

The survey found that distance/online learning was becoming an increasingly popular choice for international students, with half of agents recruiting students to online courses.

Language courses were the most sought after traditional placements, with 71 per cent of agents recruiting students on to these programmes, followed by undergraduate courses at university (67 per cent), graduate programmes (64 per cent), foundation courses (47 per cent) and secondary/high schools (39 per cent).

Agents cited the UK as the best destination for language courses, secondary/high school and foundation courses.
The US is perceived to be the best in terms of undergraduate, graduate, MBA, and work and travel programmes, while Australia has superior vocational education, according to the survey.

For virtually all countries, the majority of agents were optimistic about placing a greater number of students in the next year. Countries eliciting the highest responses of “more placements” were the US (81 per cent), the UK (76 per cent), Canada (73 per cent), and Australia (71 per cent).

ICEF predicted that Asian institutions could soon emerge as popular destinations.