Factors Influencing Students' Choice of University in England

uncertain students


Applications to study at English universities continue to rise, despite the tuition fees now levied at the maximum rate of £9000 per year by the majority of higher education institutions. How do potential students decide where to apply to study?

This research project, funded by the RAND Europe Board of Trustees in 2011, used choice experiments to provide evidence on how individuals decide between different factors such as location, course quality, and tuition fee levels when choosing between universities.


The researchers surveyed two groups of individuals: 1000 pupils intending to go to university, and 1005 (unrelated) parents of pupils intending to go to university in the autumn of 2012 or 2013. These respondents took part in a stated preference discrete choice experiment containing hypothetical university options described by characteristics of the universities, including location, graduate employment prospects, living expenses and student satisfaction ratings. From these data the researchers were able to quantify the relative importance of each characteristic in parents’ and students’ university choices.

The alternatives offered and explored within the choice experiments drew, in part, on the forms of data that are now published by UNISTATS and other websites using data collected from all higher education institutions as part of the Key Information Set.


  • Longer-term employment and earning prospects were considered when choosing between universities.
  • While financial considerations are important, quality also matters and this is judged both on the basis of course league-table rankings and the satisfaction of current students.
  • The location of the university matters, with the primary preference being to study in an English institution at universities located within the student’s region.
  • Living expenses are, pound for pound, less of a disincentive than tuition fees.
  • Debt aversion plays a role in the decision to study online.
  • Household income was not a key factor in the choice of university, among those who were already considering going on to higher education.

The choice models developed in this study can be further developed and supplemented with additional data that are now becoming available to allow a range of alternative policy scenarios or commercial strategies to be explored.


News Release

Choice of University in England: It's Not Just About the Money

Project Team

Peter Burge
Chong Woo Kim
Charlene Rohr
Michael Frearson
Benoit Guérin