The UK continues to be a popular destination for overseas students in higher education, with well over 400,000 students during the 2010/11 academic year (see box). Changes to domestic fee arrangements and student visa policy have caused negative publicity and hesitation, but, as the University of Birmingham’s Amy Cory attests, the doors are very much still open. “The University of Birmingham is proud to attract the brightest talent from around the globe and it is this diverse mix of people and cultures that greatly enriches the learning environment,” she enthuses.
Alexandra Cole at the University of East Anglia (UEA) informs that non-EU applications have been growing steadily each year. “There are several reasons why international students are attracted to UEA, and the main reasons are the quality and reputation of our courses,” says Cole. “Many students consult university and student satisfaction rankings in which UEA performs well,” she continues.
Students at UEA receive plenty of language support, Cole explains. “All international students have access to free term-time English language support and for students that do not meet our entry requirements, our on-campus partner, Into, provides academic and English pathways to UEA degree courses.”
Cory relates that the University of Birmingham has one of the largest international student communities in the UK, with currently over 4,500 students from 150 different countries. “A long history of welcoming international students means that the university understands the type of support students need to settle into life in a [foreign] country,” Cory adds. An International Students’ Welcome Week provides a hospitable introduction, while the International Students’ Advisory Service and the English for International Students Unit offer ongoing assistance.
From September, domestic and EU students will be required to pay tuition fees of up to UK£9,000 (US$14,308) per year, which can be taken as a loan and repaid after gradation. Initial figures show declining UK and EU applications (see box); leading to suggestions that many universities will become increasingly dependent on non-EU applications. However, Cole advises, “UEA home applications are still healthy, so while international recruitment is important, we are not under additional pressure to recruit more international students.”
In order to meet ambitious immigration pledges, the government has also been tightening student visa requirements for non-EU students, including withdrawing the post-study work visa. Students will now need a firm job offer from an approved employer or a university recommendation for “entrepreneurial flair” to stay (see STM, January 2012, page 8). Nicola Dandridge at Universities UK (UUK), the university representative organisation, advises that while it is too early to gauge the full effect, the policy “is playing badly internationally”. UUK is lobbying the government to be careful with language used around immigration and to reconsider the status of overseas students. “The message from government must be the UK is still open for business and welcoming legitimate international students wanting to study in the UK at one of our world-class universities. International students make a massive contribution to our universities, both academically and culturally, and contribute over UK£5 billion (US$8 billion) to the UK economy,” says Dandridge. “Genuine international students should not form part of the government’s immigration targets.”
Cole confirms concerns that changes may damage particular markets, notably India, but to counteract this UEA employs an International Careers Officer to assist both home and international students with internships and job opportunities in the UK and overseas. Cory adds that they too have a “firm focus” on employability skills. “International students are given an extensive range of support and opportunities to build their employability skills and market themselves during the job hunting process.”
Universities are also innovating in their efforts to attract and assist international students. UEA has launched an International Summer School for 2012, a four-week course with intensive tuition providing 20 units of UK academic credit. The University of Birmingham, meanwhile, recently unveiled the Birmingham Foundation Academy. “We are constantly developing new and innovative ways to reach talented applicants and stay ahead of the competition,” advises Dr. Edward Harcourt, Director of International Relations.
In terms of recruitment, Cory says academic staff regularly travel overseas to meet prospective students and give guest lectures, while international officers are often in-country to answer practical questions. At UEA, Cole explains, “We use international agents and attend education fairs in many regions, as well as embarking on online activities which combined together are effective.”
International students at UK universities
Data recently released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) and gathered from all UK public universities, shows that there were 428,225 international students in the 2010/11 academic year 130,120 from other EU countries (up 4.1 per cent over 2009/10) and 298,110 non-EU students (up 6.2 per cent). China was the top source market with 67,325 students, followed by India.
Application figures for September 2012 entry from Ucas, the organisation that administers UK university applications, show a 13.3 per cent increase over 2011 for non-EU students (as at 20 February 2012). However, the introduction of full tuition fees of up to UK£9,000 (US$14,308) for UK and EU students appears to have had a marked effect: domestic applications are down 8.5 per cent, while EU applications have dropped by 11.5 per cent.