Non-EU students return to growth in UK

16, January, 2015

The number of non-EU students at UK higher education institutions returned to growth in 2013-14 after the first-ever recorded fall in the previous year, according to data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).


The 310,195 non-EU students in 2013/14 was a three per cent increase compared with 2012/13 and represent the highest total ever recorded in the UK.

Students from other parts of the EU remained steady at 125,300 – an increase of just 10 students over the previous year. Domestic enrolments declined by three per cent, leading to a two per cent drop in overall student numbers and highlighting the continued importance of international students to UK institutions; non-EU students accounted for 13 per cent of total enrolment, while students from other EU countries constituted a further five per cent.

China, comfortably the largest source country, increased by five per cent to 87,895 students, and among the top10 non-EU markets there was sizeable growth from Malaysia (11 per cent), Hong Kong and Singapore (both 13 per cent); seven of the 10 largest source countries recorded increases in 2013/14.

However, the continuing decline of India – still the second largest supplier of non-EU students despite a 12 per cent drop to 19,750 students – will be a cause for concern for UK institutions. Neighbouring Pakistan declined by seven per cent, and both markets have been affected by the removal of the UK’s removal of post-study work (PSW) rights in 2012 – non-EU graduates now have to secure a job with a minimum salary of UK£20,300 (US$30,871) within four months to obtain a work visa.

Dr Paul Chellakumar, Patron of the Association of Accredited Advisors on Overseas Education (AAAOE) in India, told Study Travel Magazine the Indian outbound market remained steady in terms of total numbers, but over recent years UK has lost more than 80 per cent of its share, while Australia, New Zealand and Canada have increased their shares.

In a special STM cover story last year, Chellakumar explained that Indian higher education mobility had boomed due to a government loan scheme. “As such, it is very important for Indian students to have a chance to work after graduation to at least repay the loan,” he said.

Within the UK, Wales recorded the highest increase of non-EU students at six per cent, followed by growth of four per cent in England and one per cent in both Scotland and Wales. International education figures in Scotland, where many undergraduate degrees are four years rather than the standard three-year course in England, have been among the most vociferous in calling for the return of PSW.

UK institutions might also be alarmed at declines from all of the top five EU source countries. Germany remains the largest with 14,060 students – a three per cent drop – followed by France, Ireland, Greece and Cyprus. However, Italy and Spain recorded growth of 15 and 10 per cent respectively, and overall EU recruitment remained steady. Tuition fees for UK and EU students significantly increased in 2012 with the restructuring of the university funding system. 

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said, “International figures showed modest recovery during this period, but problems remain with recruitment from India. There is growing demand for quality higher education around the world, so the UK should be capitalising on this, rather than seeing the stagnation of the last few years.”

Most of the UK’s major competitor countries in international recruitment have recorded significant increases in the last year: the most recent Open Doors report revealed an 8.1 per cent increase in international students in the USA, although the overseas cohort only constitutes 4.1 per cent of the total student body there; year-to-date enrolments in November 2014 at higher education institutions in Australia were up by 8.6 per cent over the previous year; Canada registered 11 per cent growth in international students on study permits in 2013; and Germany recorded strong increases to reach a record level of international university-level enrolment in 2013.


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