14 Sep 2023
by Damaris Clark, Karl Baldacchino, Cara Skikne

Emerging study destinations in Europe

1000x667_Blog_Emerging study destinations in Europe


The distribution of student interest for study destinations across Europe is shifting, with new destinations emerging as academic hubs. The student study choice platform Studyportals has seen shifts in student interest, as measured by pageviews on the platform, from the over 50 million prospective students searching for study options. Analysing changes in millions of page views on our platform over time gives an indication of future growth prospects and emerging trends in student recruitment.

The data used for this analysis is based on demand for on-campus Bachelor’s and Master’s programmes from May 2022 to May 2023 and appears in Studyportals' Destination Europe report. In this blog post, we take a closer look at six European countries that have been garnering increasing traction among international students, as measured by pageviews on Studyportals. Whether as a function of exceptional academic offerings, student-friendly environments or other factors, these countries’ rising profiles may offer lessons for other countries seeking to position their higher education sectors as attractive choices.

Italy on the rise

Student demand for Bachelor’s programmes, as measured by pageviews on Studyportals, grew 12.8% for Italy, while interest in Master’s programmes climbed 22.5%. This is over and above already strong growth over recent years. While the Studyportals data can’t suggest a definitive reason for increased student interest in Italy, there have been more dedicated marketing efforts by Italian universities and educational institutions to promote the country as an ideal study destination.

Notably, the tuition fees in Italy are generally lower as compared to other popular study destinations, particularly at public universities, which could be another key factor in rising student interest.

Finland: Medical programmes driving demand

Finland consistently ranks among the safest countries in the world, providing a secure and welcoming environment for students from diverse backgrounds. For students who may not meet direct entry requirements, Finland's foundation courses serve as an excellent pathway to higher education. These courses offer additional support and preparatory modules, ensuring students are well-equipped to succeed in their chosen degree programmes.

Furthermore, Finland's immigration policy is designed to be student-friendly, allowing international students to easily obtain residence permits, which can be quite appealing to those students interested in exploring longer-term personal and professional experiences in Finland.

These countries’ rising profiles may offer lessons for others seeking to position their higher education sectors as attractive choices

The Studyportals data reflected a modest increase in demand from students looking for Master’s programmes. Relative interest in Bachelor’s degrees, however, surged by 36.7%.

At the Bachelor’s level there was an increase across many different subjects, however nursing, health sciences, medicine and public health showed the greatest rise in demand.

Belgium: rising interest in computer science & IT

Belgian universities are renowned for their academic excellence and cutting-edge research, offering a wide range of programmes taught in multiple languages, including English. Our analysis shows student interest for Belgium is up 10.4%, with demand for Bachelor’s programmes up 26.4%. The increase in student interest for Bachelor’s programmes has been driven largely by interest in computer sciences, web technologies and cloud computing, and artificial intelligence.

In terms of source countries, student interest in Belgium has surged from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Morocco. There is also a large uptick in relative demand from Romania for Belgian Bachelor’s programmes.

Expanding interest in Portugal

A country that is well known for its warm weather and welcoming culture, Portugal offers affordable tuition fees and living costs compared to many other European countries. This makes it a popular choice amongst students who are looking to have a European experience on a tighter student budget.

At the Bachelor’s level, interest has increased from Bangladesh, Pakistan, the UK, Poland, and the UAE, while at the Master’s level, demand from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria and Ghana has risen sharply. According to the Studyportals pageview data, engineering, IT, and computer sciences are driving the uptick in demand for Bachelor’s programmes, whereas business administration grew the most at Master’s level.

Growing demand for Master’s degrees in Spain

Data from the Spanish Ministry of Universities shows a spike in international student enrolments, surpassing numbers seen in the year before the pandemic. This year, the Spanish government approved a draft University System Law (LOSU) to reform higher education, which will ease some of the bureaucratic challenges for international students. More importantly, this has meant that international students from outside the EU will have the right to live and work in Spain for one or two years after their studies.

The biggest increase in student interest in Spain was at Master’s level, where we also saw absolute pageviews for computer sciences rising 46.9% and for management studies rising 21.1%. The Studyportals data also shows that demand for Master’s programmes in Spain has climbed from Turkey, Pakistan, Germany, Bangladesh, and the Netherlands.

Ireland’s appeal: English-taught programmes

English is the primary language of instruction in Irish universities, making it a convenient choice for international students from English-speaking and non-English-speaking countries alike. Outside of the UK, Ireland is the largest supplier of English-taught programmes in Europe, and the country has benefitted from the UK’s exit from the European Union and the subsequent increase in UK tuition fees for students from Europe. Ireland's robust economy and growing industries offer promising job opportunities for international students after graduation, especially in fields like technology, finance and healthcare.

At Master’s level, prospective student interest in Ireland has grown across a wide range of countries, from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Germany, to Ghana, the UK and Spain. At the Bachelor’s level, student interest from Pakistan, Romania, India, Poland and the US shows the biggest growth. Interest has also risen from prospective Bachelor’s students in Spain, Hungary, Greece and France.

Seizing opportunity in a shifting landscape

Whether positive changes in student demand are driven by national marketing campaigns to highlight world-class universities, cutting-edge research facilities and vibrant campus life, or attributable to push and pull factors outside of a university’s control, there are opportunities to be found in identifying pockets of student interest from different origin countries and targeting the right students. By leveraging the data insights surrounding student preference for study destinations, disciplines and sub-disciplines, universities can make informed decisions and seize on emerging trends in higher education.

Attending the 2023 EAIE Conference and Exhibition in Rotterdam and want to learn more about the shifting landscape of student interest? Visit Poster 121, ‘Global trends in online education: Tracking student interest’ for a deeper dive into this topic.


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