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Gen Z shifting focus from rankings to outcomes when choosing a university

20 Oct 2021

Global survey by INTO indicates a generational shift as young people are choosing universities against a whole new set of benchmarks ranging from skills to succeed to commitment on social issues

(LONDON / NEW YORK): Gen Z international students are shifting their focus from rankings to degree outcomes when applying to universities, a global survey by INTO University Partnerships reveals.

Most Gen Z international students now place highest value on programs that will help them become successful when applying to a university.

The survey conducted by the leading international education organisation shows that 72% of students under 25 believe the ability of a university to give them the skills they need to succeed in the future is more important than rankings.

Almost a fifth (17%) still think it is important to attend a highly ranked university, even if it is more expensive to do so.

More than 1,200 Gen Z students from 93 countries participated in the survey, which was conducted in August 2021 and focused on hopes and aspirations of Gen Z students in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. China, India, Nigeria, Kenya, Japan, Australia and Brazil were represented, among other countries.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has instilled a sense of pragmatism in Gen Z students. Rather than yearly rankings, they are looking for concrete evidence that higher education institutions will help them find long-term success in their careers and lives,” said Olivia Streatfeild, CEO of INTO University Partnerships.

“The survey shows Gen Z are not just looking at outcomes for themselves but are also assessing universities on their credentials on issues they feel strongly about. This represents a generational shift — one universities and the international education sector must prepare for as we navigate into the new normal.”

Millions of students leave home every year for studying abroad. In 2019 alone, 6.2 million students crossed borders for higher education. The global economic impact of international students is estimated to be in excess of US$350 billion.

Gen Z make up 30% of the global population, and they constitute the largest share of the pool of prospective students.

In addition to being practical, Gen Z students are more purpose-led in their pursuit of higher education abroad as a result of the pandemic. Alongside degree outcomes, 86% consider an institution’s track record on issues such as gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights and racial justice when applying to university. An overwhelming proportion (86%) seek an international degree so they can one day make the world a better place, according to the survey.

The poll also makes clear young people are opting for substance over style. Only 35% of respondents report they prefer to purchase brand-name products, while 52% report they are willing to pay more money for high-quality products regardless of brand.

“Hyperconnected as they are, Gen Z understand how the pandemic has deepened inequalities worldwide. Young people’s exposure to these challenges has galvanized them to act as catalysts of change — further proof of their resilience and resolve in the face of adversity. Helping students study abroad today means giving them the global perspective they need to address the world’s toughest problems tomorrow,” said Ms. Streatfeild.

The survey further confirms a strong activist bent among young people, 52% of whom have become more concerned about unemployment since the onset of COVID-19, with another 41% caring more about educational opportunities and 39% caring more about disease prevention. Gen Z also feel a great personal responsibility for enacting the change they want to see in the world — 41% think it is down to them and their generation to solve social issues.

“I believe that as individuals, we have our own role to play in reducing the economic inequality,” said a Gen Z student from Indonesia who is studying abroad this year.

“No one person can make a change but united we can,” said a Gen Z student from India who is studying abroad this year.

“It's everyone's responsibility to do their bit. If people start playing their role in this world most of the big problems will be resolved,” said a Gen Z student from Pakistan who is planning on studying abroad.

Highlights from the survey:

  • 72% of Gen Z students believe that a university’s capacity to give them the skills they need for their future is more important to them than its ranking; only 17% think it is important to go to a highly ranked university.
  • 86% of Gen Z students consider an institution’s track record on social issues when applying to university.
  • 52% of Gen Z students care more about unemployment in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic; 41% care more about access to education, and 39% care more about disease prevention.
  • 41% of Gen Z students believe they and others in their generation are responsible for solving social issues; 63% believe it is the role of governments.
  • Only 35% of Gen Z students prefer to purchase brand-name products, while 52% report they are willing to pay more money for high-quality products regardless of brand.
  • 86% of Gen Z students seek an international degree so they can one day make the world a better place.
  • 30% of Gen Z students report they will consider the social ethics and environmental impact of a company when they apply for jobs in the future.

The full report of INTO University Partnerships’ Gen Z survey series can be accessed here.

(INTO experts are available for media interviews)


For media enquiries, please contact:

Davinder Kumar (London, United Kingdom)
VP Corporate & Public Relations
INTO University Partnerships
Email: davinder.kumar@intoglobal.com
Mobile: +44 7926167517

JP Deering (Washington, DC, United States)
Senior Corporate Communications Advisor
INTO University Partnerships
Email: john.deering@intoglobal.com
Mobile: +1 859 351 9611


About INTO University Partnerships:

INTO University Partnerships is an independent organisation committed to expanding higher education and career opportunities for students across the globe.

We believe in the power of education to transform lives. We believe that movement of students leads to movement of ideas, which in turn creates better and more successful societies.

We connect students seeking quality international education with leading universities worldwide aspiring to widen their global reach and impact. Achieving the best learning experience and career prospects for students is central to our mission.

Since our inception in 2005, INTO has pioneered innovation in international education and created groundbreaking partnerships with 30 universities in the US and UK. We have so far helped more than 130,000 students from 190 countries realise their dream of achieving a degree from a world-class university. We also equip students to get a head start in building a career. We do this by offering exceptional academic and employability skills programmes.

We are active in over 120 countries and provide unrivalled personalised service to international students with more than 1,500 experienced staff worldwide and a global network of 2,000 recruitment partners.