Offshore study of UK degrees up in 2012/13

20 February, 2014

The number of students studying for UK higher education qualifications wholly outside of the country rose 4.9 per cent to 598,925 in the 2012/13 academic year, according to data released this week by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa).

The University of Nottingham’s branch campus in Malaysia, the largest source of offshore students for UK institutions

Study for UK qualifications outside the country is comfortably higher than the number of international students in the UK, which decreased to 425,265 in 2012/13, as previously reported. Undergraduate-level study accounted for 83 per cent of all the offshore students.

The vast majority of wholly overseas students, 59 per cent, were registered with overseas institutions partnering with UK institutions, while 21 per cent were studying by distance learning and three per cent of students were based at UK branch campuses overseas, although outside of the EU, branch campus study represented eight per cent of students.

In terms of student location, Asia accounted for 281,775 students – almost half of the total. Africa was the second largest source continent with 129,450 students, followed by the Middle East (52,790) and the EU (77,240).

Malaysia and Singapore are comfortably the largest country markets for UK offshore students, representing 20 per cent of the total combined, with 68,020 and 50,025 students respectively, the latter a slight decline compared with 2011/12. China, Pakistan and Hong Kong are the next largest individual markets.

Far from being a threat to traditional outbound study abroad business, the top three markets for offshore study in 2012/13 all increased the number of students studying in the UK in the same year.

It should be noted that one institution, Oxford Brookes University (OBU), accounted for 43.7 of the all offshore students, mostly through students registered with overseas partners on OBU’s Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) programmes.

The delivery of UK courses overseas was highlighted by the UK government in an international education growth strategy last year.

Joanna Newman, Director of the UK Higher Education International Unit (, said recently, “We know, and the government knows, that the future for UK Higher Education is international, whether in terms of international students, research or partnerships. It is clear that those institutions that embrace international opportunities are going to be the ones that not only survive, but thrive.”

A consultation on ensuring quality standards of UK provision overseas has recently been launched by the Higher Education International Unit in collaboration with the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA).

“TNE [transnational education] is an increasingly attractive proposition for UK higher education to deliver overseas, yet carries with it risks. One of the ways of mitigating these risks is developing a clear way forward on quality assurance of UK higher education delivered overseas. We very much welcome the sector's views on enhancing quality assurance so that it is both rigorous and appropriate,” said Newman.

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