May 2015 issue

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UK competition

The UK enjoys a strong position within the international tertiary marketplace. However, policy changes have impacted overseas recruitment with students looking to competitor markets. Nicola Hancox reports.

In the 2012/13 academic year, the number of non-EU students studying at a UK university fell by 0.9 per cent, the first time a decline had ever been recorded. However, according to recent data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), non-EU enrolments grew by three per cent in 2013/14 to 310,195. EU student enrolments, meanwhile, held steady at 125,300.

Analysing the number of fresh entrants starting a university course gives an indication of current demand and hints at future market trends (the above figures include students in all years and in all areas of study). Following two years of consecutive decline, the number of non-EU domiciled first-year students rose from 171,910 to 179,390 in 2013/14, an increase of four per cent.

China remains the healthiest non-EU source market for the UK university sector with this domicile representing 28 per cent (87,895) of the total non-EU student body in 2013/14. Historically, China has been trailed by India, and the 2013/14 academic year was no different. However, numbers continued to tumble with this market accounting for 19,750 of all non-EU students, a 12 per cent decline on the previous year. Indian new entrants dropped eight per cent to 11,270, chasms apart from the 23,985 recorded in the 2010/11 academic year.

“There was a clear and marked drop [in Indian students] right around the time that UKBA announced the proposed changes to the post-study work (PSW) visa,” says Paul Clark, Regional Director at Hobsons, a higher education specialist working in partnership with the university sector. “This has now been borne out three years later in enrolments.”

International Students in Higher Education: The UK and its Competition, a report by Universities UK (UUK), touched on research that suggested work opportunities post study mattered more to Indian and Nigerian students, and less so to students from China, the USA and Malaysia. “A 2013 survey carried out by Ipsos MORI of Indian nationals considering studying abroad found that 91 per cent of respondents believed the UK’s restrictions on the ability to work after graduating would put off some or most students. Of those deciding not to study in the UK, 38 per cent were deterred because they thought it unlikely that they would be able to work in the UK after completing their course,” said the report.

While it is easy to point the finger at UK government and its decision to abolish PSW rights for international students, universities should not let concern over policy overwhelm them, says Clark. However, changes in one country can affect the recruitment streams in other markets, he adds. Australian universities have seen an increase in the volume of Indian students as a result of reform in the UK. “The UK higher education sector is going to have to work harder in order to succeed in the face of the gains made by other countries with increasingly (and competitively) open and welcoming attitudes towards international students,” he observes.

UUK, meanwhile, highlights competitor countries’ strategies (i.e., Australia’s generous post-study work entitlement, the USA’s proposal to grant permanent residency to STEM graduates, and the extension of post-study work rights in France) which could threaten the UK’s position as the second most popular destination for tertiary study. The growth rate of foreign student entrants in the USA (up 10 per cent in 2013), Canada (up four per cent) and Australia (up eight per cent) is currently outperforming the UK, highlighted the UUK report.

With non-EU student numbers recovering, those on the frontline impress the importance of student diversity on campus. Dan Rolfe at SOAS, University of London notes that international representation on campus is important on a number of levels. “It is important to get a good balance of students from all over the world. This ensures the campus provides a diverse academic community.” In total, 56 per cent of the current student body are from outside of the UK, says Rolfe, with China, Italy, USA, Germany, France, Korea, Japan, Pakistan, Canada and India in the current top 10. “Through our excellent relationship with India, which includes partnerships and a unique course offering, we are pleased to be bucking the trend and admitting more Indian students each year,” he says.

The university works with a small network of trusted overseas representatives, says Rolfe, and offers 400 degree combinations in social sciences, humanities, languages and the arts. With a unique focus on Asia, Africa and the Middle East, SOAS is “very attractive to students, both international and in the UK”.

Newcastle University is another university shaking off negative rhetoric with the recent announcement of a new branch campus in the UK capital. Expected to welcome its first cohort of students this September, the new facility – a joint venture with Into University Partnerships – includes two lecture theatres, 25 seminar rooms, a library room and onsite café. The London campus will initially offer bachelor and master of science degree programmes in international business management, delivered by academic staff from Newcastle University Business School, with plans to expand provision in 2016. Academic and English preparation courses will also be available to international students via its partnership with Into. nicolahancox@hothousemedia.com

(Due to the complexity of the data, the graph titled 'Top 10 non-EU countries of domicile in 2013/14 for first year HE student enrolments, as a percentage' is only displayed in the digital issue of Study Travel Magazine)
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