Purpose: In recent times, many universities have been pressured to become heavily involved in university branding. The purpose of this paper is to investigate students’ perceptions of different international universities (brands) in terms of important university attributes, including the country in which the university’s main campus is located and educational programs are designed (COD) and the method by which the educational services are distributed internationally (DM). Design/methodology/approach: Using a conjoint simulation procedure, this paper predicts the impact that university attributes have on Malaysian and Chinese students’ preferences for international universities. Findings: The results suggest that, although COD and DM are important factors, the extent to which these factors dominate student preference differs significantly across students according to nationality. Research limitations/implications: The simulation suggests how international universities can improve their branding strategies, and highlights the need to understand students’ preferences when developing marketing strategies. Originality/value: Past research has compared the importance of university attributes across countries from the perspective of students, but failed to assess this issue in the light of existing university brands (at an institutional or country level). Such knowledge can provide an indication of student preferences and competitive performance, which are of great interest to education marketers. The present study predicts the impact of various university attributes on Malaysian and Chinese students’ preferences for specific international universities (brands) in four different countries, and changes in preference that occur when the style of delivery or course suitability is altered.