US higher education and study abroad programmes

Recently I was joined by Kathleen Porter and Kate Dion from one of Mills & Reeve’s best friend firms in the US, Robinson + Cole, to discuss the higher education market in the US and key developments and opportunities for the UK higher education sector.

Kathleen and Kate highlighted the post-Covid 19 challenges faced by US institutions, the changing attitudes of students and parents following the pandemic and how UK institutions can strengthen their position as a key destination for US students to pursue foreign study.

Key developments and issues in the US higher education market

As a result of a decreasing US birth-rate, the US higher education market is currently preparing for an ‘impending demographic cliff’ predicted to hit US higher education institutions in 2025.

With fewer eligible college-aged students and a post-pandemic shift in the aspirations of young Americans, the number of students entering the US higher education sector is predicted to fall dramatically.  

While UK Universities are currently a top destination for US students the question will be how this can be maintained in the current climate.

Perceptions of UK universities

  • The UK remains a top destination for US students to study abroad. Not only is there a common language, but UK universities are perceived by US students and parents as offering a high-quality education and importantly, a safe study environment.
  • The cost of University in the UK, compared to US tuition fees, is attractive to US parents who have become increasingly involved in decision-making concerning their children’s higher education in the US.
  • Post-lockdown, US students are more interested in courses which offer the opportunity to travel abroad.

How can UK universities strengthen their position in the US?

  • Work with US institutions to create attractive foreign exchange study programmes. UK Universities should consider how effective their current digital marketing strategy is as this can be fundamental to the success or failure of the exchange programme and continuing uptake from US students.
  • Transparency about safety policies and processes on campus. Considering recent US case law where US institutions were held responsible for injuries incurred by students in study abroad programmes, student safety is an increasing concern for US higher education institutions, students and parents alike. Transparency by UK Universities can aid US institutions when carrying out due diligence on UK courses and can help reassure parents and students.  
  • Invite US faculty staff to spend time in the UK university. US institutions increasingly use faculty champions to promote their foreign exchange courses and consider these champions to be the most effective marketing resource for students interested in learning about life at a UK University.
  • Ensure student exchange agreements cover all eventualities and factors. A key concern for US students and parents is ensuring that the students are provided for in the eventuality that they become stuck in the UK for prolonged periods of time or encounter other unforeseeable events (e.g. another covid lockdown). UK Universities should work with US institutions to provide students and parents with certainty and clarity in relation to the fees relating to the course and liability for unforeseen events so they are not faced with unexpected surprises down the line.

The above is a high level summary of some current issues; anyone considering these matters should always seek specific legal advice, which we would be very happy to discuss with you further.  Finally, to sign up to other webinars in our series on global HE strategy, do visit our events page.

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