Editorial Team

The global pandemic has caused huge disruption to education around the world and has directly impacted students’ decisions about where to study once they leave school, according to Cambridge International’s annual Destinations Survey.

The survey asks schools across the globe where their Cambridge International AS & A Level students from the previous year have chosen to go to university, and what subjects they have elected to study. The responses give an insightful picture of the top destinations for Cambridge International students, and an idea of how the trends are evolving over time.

The research, gathered from 300 Cambridge schools worldwide, found the turbulent past year has had a significant influence on student choices. 84% of schools surveyed reported that many of their students had changed their minds about their first-choice destination or university – largely as a result of general uncertainty, difficulties with travel or financial hardship caused by the pandemic.

However, despite the impacts of the pandemic, the desire of Cambridge students to continue their higher education overseas has not changed. Over a third of Cambridge students are still estimated to have progressed to universities outside of their own country in 2020.

Greater awareness of international study

Whilst the impacts of the pandemic had a big influence on the decisions students took about their next educational steps, the research also found that students are becoming more aware of the wide range of study options available to them internationally. A quarter of schools say the trend for Cambridge students going to university outside their own country is increasing. When asked why, many cite a greater awareness of international education and a perception that overseas study can offer a greater choice of courses and wider career opportunities.

Globally, many teachers surveyed reported a diversification in the countries that students are prepared to consider, with a particular increase in applications to universities in Turkey, Germany, Canada, Indonesia, UAE and the Netherlands.

Those responding to the survey felt one reason for this was that overseas universities in a wider range of countries are increasingly offering a greater choice of courses, which gives students wider career opportunities.

In addition, looking at the top four international destinations globally (UK, US, Canada and Australia), 76% reported they chose the UK because of strong university reputation, whilst 73% reported they chose Canada because it was the most attractive for future job opportunities. 66% cited university reputation as the reason for choosing a US university, and 34% chose Australia because they were interested in exploring the region.

In India, the majority of students are still choosing to pursue higher education courses at Indian universities, followed by international destinations like the US and UK. Indian students have also shown increased interest in studying at Canadian and Australian universities, similar to the global student trend identified in the survey findings.

Ashoka University emerged to be the top choice for students looking to study in India followed by FLAME University, NMIMS University, Christ University and Amity University. The research also identified the top five higher education subject choices for Indian students are Business & Management, Engineering, Computer Science, Economics and Liberal Arts.

Financial decisions

Some respondents reported there is also greater awareness of scholarships and funding, which makes going to university overseas more financially viable. The global economic downturn means more students are looking for more cost-efficient solutions for university study. When asked why students chose a certain country, Turkey scored the highest (62%) for being good value for money, followed by Netherlands (61%) and Malaysia (60%).

Global pandemic and its effect on higher education decisions

Overwhelming, 84% of schools said the Covid-19 pandemic had a major impact on students’ Higher Education decisions in 2020. Three out of five (62%) schools said some of their students delayed or deferred university due to general uncertainty and wanting to avoid travel away from home. The impact of Covid-19 on location choice was so important that 43% of schools had at least some students change their plans to study at another university

The ongoing travel restrictions imposed by various governments has made it difficult for students to travel to some traditional destinations, such as the UK and US. For instance, only 17% of students chose the US as their preferred destination, a sharp drop from 34% in 2019.

Kevin Ebenezer, Head of Global Recognitions at Cambridge International said: “We know the pandemic has created a huge amount of pressure on education globally, and this is reflected in the findings which clearly show it has affected students’ university choices. However, despite such a challenging year, it is positive to see that an estimated 70% of Cambridge students went on to attend a top-500 globally ranked university in 2020, compared to 68% in 2019.

“I would like to acknowledge the hard work of our students, and the ongoing support of their teachers, which has meant our students have been able to achieve their Cambridge qualifications and progress to university despite all the challenges they have faced. I wish them all the very best for the future.”

Mahesh Shrivastava, Regional Director, South Asia, Cambridge Assessment International Education said: “The education world has undergone tremendous disruption during the pandemic but institutions across the world adapted to deliver teaching through new mediums to ensure students could continue their education. At Cambridge International, we worked with our partner schools in every possible way to understand their changing needs and preferences, so that teaching and learning could continue, and students could gain their qualifications and progress to higher education.”

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