North America's appeal to postgraduates wanes as more European universities run courses in English

Europe is winning the battle for the most popular region for postgraduate study. According to preliminary 2009 statistics compiled by QS (Quacquarelli Symonds), the private provider of higher education information services, North America has continued to slide in the esteem of prospective postgraduates. There has also been a noticeable increase in the proportion of students studying international relations, communications and law, mainly at the expense of Fame (finance, accounting, management and economics) subjects .

The analysis is based on information from the QS World Grad School Tour. The company takes universities wanting to attract postgraduates to student fairs it organises in about 60 cities around the world each year. The information is provided by prospective students who must register on the company's website and complete a questionnaire to attend a fair. QS has consistent data for the past four years, obtained from 40,000 to 60,000 students annually.

"We've noticed that Europe is becoming more popular. People are turning away from North America as the destination for study," says David McClelland, senior operations manager at the QS World Grad School Tour. In general, 33.5 per cent of postgraduate applicants preferred North America (the US and Canada), and 57 per cent Europe in 2009, against 39 per cent and 50 per cent respectively in 2007.

The trend is clear across most regions. In North America itself, 27 per cent of prospective applicants in 2009 wanted to study in Europe, an increase of 8.5 percentage points over 2007, against a fall of 7.9 percentage points over the same period for candidates opting to remain in North America.

In Europe, just over 21 per cent of prospective postgraduate applicants wish to study in North America (a fall of 6.8 percentage points from 2007), and almost 76 per cent prefer to stay in Europe. In Asia, the latest happy hunting ground for universities, the percentage of prospective postgraduates wanting to study in North America fell by 7.7 percentage points between 2007 and 2009 to almost 46 per cent.

India is the outstanding example. About 34 per cent of prospective applicants wished to study in North America, down some 20 percentage points in two years, compared with 51 per cent who prefer Europe, up 18 percentage points on 2007.

The exception is Latin America, where preferences appear to have changed little between 2007 and 2009. Of prospective applicants, 57.5 per cent favoured Europe, compared with 27 per cent who opted for North America.

A twist to the tale is that men and women students have markedly different regional preferences. Of males, 54 per cent favour North America against 35 per cent choosing Europe. For females, the figures are reversed with 59 per cent favouring Europe and 33 per cent the US.

What explains Europe's growing popularity? One possibility is language. "It's grown more attractive to study in Europe because many more universities are putting on courses in English," says Dominic Scott, chief executive of the UK Council for International Student Affairs (Ukcisa). He also argues that North American universities are pricing themselves out of the market.

The UK is particularly attractive because of the Post-Study Work scheme, which allows foreign graduates to work for two years after finishing their studies. The UK has 11 per cent of the global student market, but Scott warns: "France, Germany and the Netherlands were nowhere five or six years ago. Now they're almost on a par with the UK."

McClelland points out that European universities have been more aggressive than North American competitors about recruiting overseas students, and the greater visibility of rankings has made students more aware of the high quality of many European universities. That is important because "the main motivation behind postgraduate study is definitely career progression", McClelland says.

However, explaining the declining status of Fame subjects seems to be less easy. Whereas the percentage of students choosing Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects has stayed stable at around 23 per cent for several years, Fame has tumbled from being the preference of 41 per cent of students in 2006 to 29 per cent last year.

One possible explanation is the corresponding increase in the number of candidates opting for international relations, communications and law in recent years. The trend is most noticeable among younger students: in 2009, 13 per cent of candidates for international relations and law were under the age of 21.

"In recent years, international relations has been an increasing part of the World Grad School Tour. Younger people are interested in the world and want to change it. A growing number want to work for NGOs and international organisations," says McClelland.

The next QS World Grad School Tour fair is on 11 March, from 4pm to 8pm, at Renaissance Chancery Court Hotel, 252 High Holborn, London, WC1V 7EN

Life and Style
A picture taken on February 11, 2014 at people walking at sunrise on the Trocadero Esplanade, also known as the Parvis des droits de l'homme (Parvis of Human Rights), in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
Scientists believe Mercury is coated in billions of years’ worth of carbon dust, after being ‘dumped on’ by passing comets
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Structural Engineer

£17000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Structural Engineer ...

Guru Careers: Graduate Sales Executive

£18 - 24k OTE + Uncapped Commission: Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Executive ...

Ashdown Group: Learning and Development Programme Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant - IT Channel - Graduate

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a Value-Added I...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor