By Matthew Knott, News Editor of Study Travel Magazine

Late last week came the news that universities in the UK hoped would never come but must have privately feared: the number of non-EU students at higher education level has fallen for the first time in 2012/13.

A degree of caution is required. The drop was only one per cent and 2012/13 was therefore the second highest total ever, and non-EU students at undergraduate level actually increased. But with both domestic and EU students numbers falling substantially – a drop no doubt caused by the introduction of greatly increased tuition fees in the 2012/13 academic year – institutions will be alarmed that the valuable income stream from outside the EU may be stagnating at the worst possible time.

It is clear to see what markets have been affected by changes to the UK’s student visa system. Students from India declined by 25 per cent in 2012/13, with the rate of new enrolments from this market almost halving since 2009/10. A couple of months ago, a report from the Council of Graduate Schools in the USA highlighted a sudden surge in Indian applications, which can’t be a coincidence.

Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Anglia, Edward Acton, has squarely blamed the Home Secretary Theresa May and her policies, such as the removal of post-study work rights, for damaging recruitment. “India is going to be by far the biggest market, along with China, as the century progresses, and Britain has a natural affinity with India. Mrs May has just butchered it,” he said to the Times Higher Education.

Meanwhile, the Korean outbound market has been struggling of late, and in this week’s ‘View from the desk of…’ Song-Il Cho, President of Uhakadvice agency, reports that the last two years have been the worst he has known.

But some light at the end of the tunnel emerges in our interview, with some positive trends (new destinations, growth of working holidays and gap year travel) developing and signs of economic recovery in 2014. I was lucky enough to interview Mr Cho at the Alphe Korea conference, where many other Korean agents were more optimistic of times ahead, feeling that the market had bottomed out. Good news for educators and agents in what is still one of the world’s key recruitment markets.

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