Flywire today (8 Apr) announced a new research report that reveals 63% of international students say a slow and painful tuition payments process paints a negative picture of their UK university. The interactive report, Discover Ways to Attract More Overseas Students: A Payment Study for UK Universities, is based on a survey of international students from China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria and Vietnam at UK universities, and uncovers a correlation between the recruitment and retention of students and a positive tuition payment experience.

Last year, the UK government pledged to attract 600,000 international students to the UK by 2030. Universities are actively looking to attract more overseas students to unlock new revenue streams and improve competitiveness—as well as boost the UK’s pool of talented individuals. The report offers clear insight and pragmatic advice for universities looking to deliver an online payment experience that attracts more international students.

“Now, more than ever, the Government and individual universities must do all that we can to attract and welcome international students to the UK,” said Abi Shearsmith, Head of Finance & Programme Business Lead at University of Leeds.

“For many students their choice of university will go beyond the academic offering and include other areas they place value on, including support and administration services. For most international students the payer experience begins long before they set foot on our university campus, so it’s vital that we provide a secure and easily navigated payment service.”

“Given the level of tuition fees being charged across the sector, students often expect to be treated as “customers” in certain aspects of their university journey; paying fees is one of these areas, where an overly complex and lengthy process does not reflect the high level of experience expected for our students.”

Key findings from the report include:

  • A digital-first experience is critical to attracting students: 80% of students want to pay for their tuition digitally. However, 63% of students say their experience is slow and painful and, in turn, paints a negative picture of their university, and nearly half (49%) of students say they wouldn’t recommend their university to others if they receive a poor payment experience. Making a high-stakes payment for one of life’s most important moments clearly has a disproportionate impact on the relationship between the university and student if not handled with care.
  • Security and transparency are key concerns: 53% were concerned about the security of tuition payments. In fact, security was cited as the most important feature when making a payment by respondents. Transparency also ranked highly, with over 70% of students expressing concern over their inability to track payment status in real-time. Worryingly, nearly one in five (19%) students confirmed they have been the subject of “hidden charges” when making a payment. Universities are expected to not only be clear about fees, but create a payment process that is secure, transparent and minimises the fees levied.
  • Students expect a choice of payment options: 86% of students want to use their preferred payment method (such as Alipay in China) and 66% would like to pay in their home currency. Furthermore, 69% of respondents want to be able to use multiple devices (PC, mobile or tablet) and 81% of want to be able to pay tuition via their university’s website. Universities need to ensure they offer students choice of payment method and device as well as ensuring the payment process is embedded within their website.

“To remain viable in today’s competitive education market, universities should view their students as ‘customers’ that want a great experience. This is no easy task, and even more complicated when under pressure to diversify and offer more places to students from markets beyond China – especially in light of the evolving Covid-19 pandemic,” said Sharon Butler, Executive Vice President, Global Education at Flywire.

“If universities want to attract more international students, they need to take action to improve the payment process – digitally – for one of life’s most important moments. The good news is that the tools and expertise to create a compelling online tuition payment experience—from local payment methods to 24x7 multilingual support and real-time tracking—are available, and already helping UK institutions to differentiate and attract international students.”

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Research Methodology: This survey was conducted by independent research agency Sapio Research in November 2019. The online survey was completed by 166 international students currently studying in the UK from China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Vietnam.

Payments data provided by Flywire captured between 2018 and 2019. In total, 33,351 payments were analysed from students originating from China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, or Vietnam who attended UK universities over that period.

Due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the projections cited in this study could change. We will consider a follow-up study should updated findings become available.

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