UK unis failing to meet recruitment targets

June 11, 2013

The number of UK universities meeting international recruitment targets is falling, according to a report by Universities UK (UUK) which also warns that changes to the student visa regime could cost the country as much as UK£2.4 billion (US$3.7bn) in exports over the next twelve years.

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The report, The funding environment for universities: an assessment, examined trends in enrolment at higher education institutions and the effect of immigration policies, including the removal of the post-study work visa.

According to the results of UUK’s survey – with 100 institutions responding – 59 per cent of universities that set targets for international recruitment met them for 2011-12, but this fell to 44 per cent for 2012-13. The results of the survey suggested that undergraduate enrolments would continue to grow, but that taught postgraduate enrolments would continue to fall.

Among the surveyed institutions, China was the most commonly cited market where demand remained strong, while the largest falls came from India. However, UUK warns that institutions could be exposed to risk from the countries fuelling demand, noting that demographic changes in China will lead to a reduction in the 18-to-22-year-old Chinese population by 2020.

In the report, UUK acknowledged that while the total number of international students increased in the 2011-12 academic year, the number of new entrants declined slightly, according to data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa).

Using research from London Economics, which used 2008-09 as the base year for calculating export earnings from education, and extrapolating to 2011-12 student numbers, UUK calculated that the value of non-EU students could be close to UK£7 billion (US$10.7bn), including tuition fees and off-campus subsistence expenditure.

The report highlighted the declines that Australia suffered following changes to the visa system. “Should a pattern emerge in the UK similar to that seen in Australia, then a five per cent fall in in the value of UK higher education could equate to more than UK£350 million (US$544m) in foregone earnings in one year alone,” the report said.

“Such a change would not be easily reversed, and, as seen in other higher education systems, the effects can endure across several academic years,” the report said. If such a trend wasn’t easily reversed, UK exports could suffer a reduction in exports to the value of UK£2.4 billion (US$3.7bn) between 2012-13 and 2024-25, UUK concluded.

Reductions in non-EU student numbers could also pose a threat to course provision. According to Hesa, 40 per cent of all non-EU students enrolled on courses at higher education institutions were on postgraduate taught programmes, and in some subject areas made up around half of all students. Strong demand from China has masked decreases elsewhere, with the number of new entrants on postgraduate taught courses in 2011-12 from India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia declining by 35 per cent, 31 per cent and 39 per cent respectively, according to Hesa data.

“Therefore, some institutions are particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in demand, with implications for the provision of certain courses with typically lower levels of home and EU student enrolments,” said UUK in the report.

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