Do International Students Recognise the Value of a Two-Year Undergraduate Degree?

Do International Students Recognise the Value of a Two-Year Undergraduate Degree?

Our latest survey looks at the question of whether international students would be willing to pay a higher annual tuition fee for a two-year undergraduate programme than they would have paid for an equivalent three-year degree.

The results are surprising
Our findings suggest that there is a remarkably low level of understanding among prospective and current international students of the concept of two-year degrees, with only 26% saying they would be willing to pay more each year for such a programme, despite the fact that such a programme would likely include three years worth of teaching within a two-year timeframe, as well as a reduced cost of living from spending fewer years studying. Most remarkably, more than half of the students we surveyed (52%) said they would expect annual tuition fees for a two-year programme to be lower than for an equivalent three-year degree. Just over a fifth (21%) said it should cost the same.

The wording of our question was intentionally neutral, as we didn’t want to risk leading respondents in a particular way by ‘selling’ the value of a two-year programme in the question.

We asked:
“If you were to consider studying for a two-year degree would you expect the annual tuition fee to be: [A lot more/Slightly more/The same as/A lot less/Slightly less than a three-year degree]”.

The broad picture was the same across different regions and subject areas
When segmented on a regional level, European students were the least likely to recognise the value of a two-year degree, with 61% saying it should cost less each year in tuition fees.

When comparing by subject, Creative Arts and Social Studies had the highest percentage of students who felt a two-year programme should be less expensive each year.

While there are small regional and subject-based differences in the exact percentages, the overall picture seems to hold true across the board.

So what’s going on here?
The fact that 52% of respondents felt two-year degrees should have a lower annual tuition fee points to several possibilities, all of which come down to the fundamental issue of a lack of understanding around what is meant by two-year degrees.

  • Firstly, it could be the case that many of the respondents who answered that a two-year degree should cost less than a three-year degree did not understand that both options lead to the same qualification – a bachelor’s degree.
  • Secondly, it’s possible that many respondents did not understand that an accelerated two-year programme would provide a greater number of teaching hours per year, and be more expensive for a university to deliver on an annual basis than a traditional three-year programme.
  • Thirdly, there is the possibility that some respondents simply misunderstood the question and answered based not on the annual cost but on the total cost of study, in which case it would be reasonable to assume that two years would be less expensive than three.


As our first, relatively small piece of research on two-year degrees, it’s clear that these results should be viewed as provisional rather than conclusive, but even so, there is much here that universities can learn from when thinking about marketing two-year degrees.

What can we learn from this?
Regardless of whether misunderstanding of the question has played a part in the way students have answered (and for some it undoubtedly will) it seems clear that there is a degree of confusion among international students around what a two-year undergraduate degree is and what value it offers compared to a three-year programme.

Before offering these programmes to the mass-market, it’s important that all of us engaged in marketing to prospective students think carefully about how to explain them with clarity and in a way that makes their value clear.

Perhaps the label “two-year degree” is itself problematic, as it may be taken to imply an inferior ‘product’ to a three-year degree. Alternative wording such as “accelerated learning track” might help avoid such a conclusion. There also needs to be a focus on the equivalence of such degrees with three-year programmes, and marketers might be wise to heavily emphasise that – in most cases – the student will attain the exact same degree in a shorter period of time.

Free text responses from students who said they were willing to pay more annually for a two-year degree do suggest that when the value proposition is understood, they are seen as attractive:

“If teaching and facilities are the same in a 2-year degree as in a 3-year degree than it’s fair to pay slightly more for time saved.”

“In my opinion, reducing the years of studying is good but if they focus on what is needed for a student to acquire the required knowledge, I agree that is worth to charge a bit more for a shorter time.”

It’s clear that more research needs to be done into international student perceptions and understanding of two-year degrees if UK universities are to market these as a viable alternative to traditional three-year programmes, but that where students understand what is on offer, they do tend to see them as compelling.

Survey Information
QS Enrolment Solutions (formerly Hobsons Solutions) conducted an online survey of international students considering or already studying in three major study destinations: the UK, Australia and New Zealand. The survey was conducted between 21 September and 12 October 2017 and 2,731 qualifying responses were received across all destinations – a response rate of 9.2%. This report is based on responses from undergraduate students only.


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