Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore international postgraduate students’ expectations of UK university education, covering various aspects of student expectation at a leading business school in Scotland. The authors present in this paper the findings from the qualitative stage of this study, offering a fresh insight into the factors that influence students’ expectations of postgraduate university education and the impact this has on the students’ satisfaction with their courses. Design/methodology/approach: A qualitative inquiry was adopted, collecting primary data by means of semi-structured interviews of business school international students enroled in different taught 12-month MSc courses. Findings: International students are found to have high expectations of improved job prospects after graduating from their chosen UK university, underlined mainly by the university’s reputation for improving student employability. The most significant a priori factors that form students’ expectations are word of mouth, recommendations and the students’ belief in the calibre of lecturers and the quality of the facilities. Research limitations/implications: The students are universities’ most important customers in an increasingly competitive and financially constrained UK higher education environment. Theoretically, the study contributes to the growing literature in this challenging environment not only by identifying the components of international postgraduate students’ expectations but also by exploring how the expectations can be met or exceeded to improve students’ satisfaction. Future research can also replicate this study to other subject areas and draw the similarities and differences that may exist in the expectations of non-business international MSc students. Practical implications: Practically, this study’s findings should help university students’ recruitment and engagement services develop tailored marketing strategies to better manage international students’ expectations, for example, by being more proactive in embedding employability into postgraduate education provision. Moreover, the findings can also be drawn upon to improve the design and delivery of taught MSc courses in order to meet and exceed the expectations of prospective international postgraduate students. Originality/value: This research offers a fresh insight and contributes to the understanding of international students’ expectations and their satisfaction of university education services.