More than two in five prospective international students have no interest in studying their degree online amid Covid-19, a survey suggests.
The proportion of students who have changed their plans to study in the UK and deferred their entry by a year rose between February and March, according to findings in a think tank report.
It comes after vice-chancellors warned earlier this month that universities could face “financial failure” amid the coronavirus crisis due to a predicted sharp fall in international students this year.
Many universities across the UK have shut down classes and switched to online teaching to ensure that home and international students can still receive an education during the pandemic.
But a survey by think tank QS, which compiles the international university rankings, has found that 43% of prospective international students would not want to study their degree online.
The report says it is likely that these students will be among the cohort who are interested in deferring their studies overseas.
The proportion of students who have had to change their plans to study in the UK due to Covid-19 increased from 27% in mid-February to 58% in late-March, according to the think tank.
However, the majority of these students still intend to study abroad in the future as more than half said they plan to defer their entry until 2021 if they are unable to start this year.
The think tank is calling on the Government and universities to raise awareness of the post-study work visa offer among international students in a bid to boost recruitment.
The survey, of more than 78,000 prospective students, of whom more than 33,000 were interested in studying in the UK, found that only 6% of prospective international students who would like to attend a British university are aware of the time-frame of the post-study work visa.
It comes after the Government announced in September that international students would be able to stay in the UK for two years after graduating to find work, rather than four months.
But despite this announcement, nearly half (48%) of students think they have a maximum of four months, a quarter think they have between five and 12 months and 17% said they did not know.
Around three in five international students said they would be more likely to consider studying in the UK if the post-study work visa was extended by a year – from two to three years.
Nunzio Quacquarelli, chief executive at QS, said: “Our research shows that overall awareness of the visa extension among international students remains very low.
“To ensure that Britain remains a top destination for international students, the UK will need to communicate this more effectively with priority student markets moving forward.”
On the visa scheme, Jo Johnson, former universities minister, said: “The policy must be better communicated to prospective overseas students. The contribution they make will be particularly important given the impact that Covid-19 is having on our economies.”
A Universities UK spokesperson said: “It is more important than ever for international students to understand the great opportunities available to them if they choose to study in the UK.
“We were pleased to see that the Tier 4 guidance released last week confirmed that the new graduate route is still scheduled to be launched in summer 2021, as previously announced.
“We await further details from Government of the implementation of the route. This information will help universities to clearly communicate the process and benefits of the route to international students.”