International Student Recruitment – Charting the Brexit Effect

International Student Recruitment – Charting the Brexit Effect

  • Aaron Porter
  • 19 January 2017
  • Posted in: Education

2016 has been a year of highs and lows. For many of us in the higher education sector it probably feels like there have been more lows than highs. The early hours in 24 June were particularly low, as results trickled through from across the UK, and slowly it emerged that we would be leaving the European Union.

The initial impact was very uncomfortable. EU students and staff felt vulnerable, with uncertainty surrounding their future status in the UK. Fears heightened that prospective EU students would look elsewhere for future study. And against that backdrop, university leaders were quick to try and reassure staff and students that there would be no immediate changes.

There is much relevant detail still to emerge, primarily from the upcoming formal discussions between the UK government and the European Commission. Against this backdrop the higher education sector is desperately trying to understand and model the impact of the likely changes.

Across the Hotcourses group we are able to draw upon data detailing the searching choices of 32,000,000 prospective international students. From these we can identify trends and send early signals about new patterns in demand for overseas study. Although we are still in the early stages of the recruitment cycle, it is interesting to share initial findings. These look at attitudes of prospective students from both key European Union countries toward the UK, and also whether key non-EU recruitment markets have been affected.

December the ninth marked 24 weeks since the vote. Comparing UK market share at 24 weeks before and after the vote helps to shed light on some interesting trends.

7 January – 23 June (24 weeks)                                      24 June – 9 December (24 weeks)

Country searched Share of global traffic (%)   Country searched Share of global traffic (%) % Change
USA 35.9   USA 33.8 -2.1
UK 25.3   UK 25.0 -0.3
Australia 20.1   Australia 18.4 -1.7
Canada 6.1   Canada 9.1 +3.0
New Zealand 5.8   New Zealand 6.2 +0.4
Netherlands 3.8   Netherlands 4.1 +0.3
Ireland 2.9   Ireland 3.4 +0.5

Comparing the 24 weeks before and after the EU referendum it is noticeable that the three most established markets (the USA, the UK and Australia) have all lost market share. Indeed the USA (possibly amplified by the Trump effect) and Australia have lost a more substantial share than the UK. The bulk of their loss has been replaced with a strident Canada, who have climbed 3%.

Country by country difference – European Union

Searches from Germany

Country searched Share of traffic (%)   Country searched Share of traffic (%) % Change
UK 31.9   UK 31.1 -0.8
USA 26.5   USA 23.6 -2.9
Netherlands 15.1   Netherlands 13.9 -1.2
Australia 14.0   Australia 13.9 -0.1
New Zealand 5.2   New Zealand 5.7 +0.5
Canada 4.5   Canada 6.6 +2.1
Ireland 2.8   Ireland 5.1 +2.3

(Sample size – 17,252)                                                     (Sample size – 19,948)

The most striking change comparing the 24 weeks before and after the EU referendum is not the fall in the UK share (-0.8), but the more substantial fall in the USA share (-2.9). Again, Canada is a significant beneficiary (+2.1), whilst Ireland also climbs (+2.3).

Searches from Poland

Country searched Share of traffic (%)   Country searched Share of traffic (%) % Change
UK 42.9   UK 35.5 -7.4
USA 19.8   USA 20.3 +0.5
Netherlands 11.9   Netherlands 13.0 +1.1
Australia 11.9   Australia 11.6 -0.3
Canada 6.4   Canada 7.2 +0.8
New Zealand 4.8   New Zealand 4.8 =
Ireland 2.4   Ireland 8.0 +5.6

(Sample size – 3,572)                                                       (Sample size – 4,186)

Whilst UK market share held up well in Germany, it has fallen significantly for searches from Poland (-7.4). The biggest beneficiary from the drop to searches to the UK, appears to be Ireland which has increased by 5.6%.

Searches from France

Country searched Share of traffic (%)   Country searched Share of traffic (%) % Change
UK 31.2   UK 33.0 +1.8
USA 31.2   USA 24.2 -7.0
Australia 14.0   Australia 14.6 +0.6
Netherlands 6.6   Netherlands 7.4 +0.8
Canada 6.4   Canada 10.0 +3.6
Ireland 6.1   Ireland 5.7 -0.4
New Zealand 4.5   New Zealand 5.0 +0.5

(Sample size – 10,947)                                                     (Sample size – 13,201)

Since the Brexit vote, searches looking at the UK has actually increased from France (+1.8%). The United States has suffered a significant drop falling by 7%. Canada has fared well, increasing by 3.6%.

Searches from Italy

Country searched Share of traffic (%)   Country searched Share of traffic (%) % Change
UK 40.7   UK 36.4 -4.3
USA 27.4   USA 23.6 -3.8
Australia 12.0   Australia 14.0 +2.0
Netherlands 8.1   Netherlands 10.5 +2.4
Ireland 4.2   Ireland 5.8 +1.6
New Zealand 4.2   New Zealand 3.8 -0.4
Canada 3.3   Canada 5.8 +2.5

(Sample size – 8,672)                                                       (Sample size – 10,500)

Significant drops for the UK and the USA since the Brexit vote, down by 4.3% and 3.8% respectively. Positive growth for Australia (2.0%), Netherlands (2.4%), Ireland (1.6%) and Canada (2.5%).

Country by country difference – outside of the EU

Searches from Brazil

Country searched Share of traffic (%)   Country searched Share of traffic (%) % Change
USA 52.6   USA 53.0 +0.4
UK 15.2   UK 13.8 -1.4
Australia 11.8   Australia 10.1 -1.7
Canada 10.7   Canada 12.6 +1.9
Ireland 3.7   Ireland 3.8 +0.1
New Zealand 3.2   New Zealand 3.7 +0.5
Netherlands 2.8   Netherlands 2.9 +0.1

(Sample size – 552,878)                                                  (Sample size – 520,085)

Searches from Indonesia

Country searched Share of traffic (%)   Country searched Share of traffic (%) % Change
UK 31.5   UK 32.0 +0.5
Australia 26.5   Australia 27.1 +0.6
USA 19.8   USA 19.8 =
Netherlands 9.3   Netherlands 9.0 -0.3
New Zealand 7.3   New Zealand 6.7 -0.6
Canada 4.0   Canada 4.0 =
Ireland 1.5   Ireland 1.4 -0.1

(Sample size – 283,196)                                                  (Sample size – 302,410)

Searches from India

Country searched Share of traffic (%)   Country searched Share of traffic (%) % Change
USA 36.7   USA 34.6 -2.1
Australia 22.1   Australia 20.6 -1.5
UK 15.9   UK 13.1 -2.8
New Zealand 11.4   New Zealand 10.4 -1.0
Canada 10.0   Canada 17.1 +7.1
Ireland 2.2   Ireland 2.6 +0.4
Netherlands 1.6   Netherlands 1.7 +0.1

(Sample size – 373,817)                                                  (Sample size – 479,899)

Our data paints interesting pictures of the demand from three significant international markets for the UK: Brazil, India and Indonesia. The USA continues to be the dominant recipient of market share from Brazil, while the UK and Australia have fallen back slightly, with Canada largely gaining.

Better news in Indonesia where the UK continues to be the leading recipient of searches, managing to increase slightly from 31.5% to 32%.

The picture in India is perhaps most striking. As we know, the UK has seen a rapidly diminishing share of the Indian student market in recent years, which can be easily traced back to the removal of the Post Study Work entitlement under the Coalition government. We have also seen the UK slip into third (behind the USA and Australia) in terms of student enrolment and this is mirrored in our research data too. More worryingly though, since June our data shows the UK slipping even further behind to 4th place (with Canada also surpassing the UK). The rise of Canada from 10% to 17.1% of the Indian traffic is quite incredible.

Over the coming weeks and months, it will be interesting to monitor trends in searches to the UK and how we are faring against global competition. The early signs are whilst the UK may face a small decline, it is not uniform and different countries are treating Brexit in a range of ways. And if things looked tough for the UK, it appears the Trump effect could be more significant for the United States.

The data for this blog was derived from the Hotcourses Group Insights Tool which tracks over 32,000,000 annual prospective international students capturing their course preferences by country, subject and level of study. For more information, please contact


  • Brexit
  • higher education
  • Article Author

About Aaron Porter

Aaron Porter is an education consultant working for a range of organisation in the higher education sector. Aaron has responsibility for sharing trends and insights across the global suite of websites to inform and support education providers in their marketing and recruitment plans. Before Advance HE, Aaron was President of the National Union of S…