UK universities not attracting enough overseas students despite numbers rising

by Ray Clancy on January 21, 2016

UK universities are attracting more students from overseas with an increase in those arriving to study from outside of the European Union, but still behind many other popular countries.

The number of students from within the UK has fallen by 2% year on year and those from the European Union are down by 1%. At a post graduate level there are even more international students.

University-StudentsOverall, the data the Higher Education Statistics Agency shows that students from outside the EU increased by 1% in 2014/2015. But the UK is still behind other countries popular with international students, including the United States, Australia, Canada and Germany.

Indeed, the US has seen a 10% growth on overseas students, Australia is up 8%, Canada u 11% and Germany up 7% in the same time period.

This is a matter of concern, according to Gordon Slaven, the British Council’s director of higher education.

“Given that international students make such a vital academic, cultural and economic contribution to the UK, it is alarming that the UK’s 1% growth is so small when compared to our competitors,” said Slaven. “There is now a clear trend of the UK’s global market share declining compared with other countries, and we need to take urgent steps to address, and stem this decline. Other countries are currently gaining at the UK’s expense and the government and sector must work together to ensure that our world class higher education system remains attractive and accessible to every ambitious young person in the world.”

A breakdown of the figures show that UK domiciled students accounted for 81% of all enrolments, the same as in 2013/2014. A further of students 5% were from other EU countries and the remaining 14% came from countries outside the EU.

The overall number of student enrolments from outside the EU increased by 1% from 2013/2014 from 310,195 to 312,010. The number of other EU domiciled students decreased by 1% from 125,300 to 124,575.

However, the number of students from some countries have fallen. For example, there was a 10% fall in students from India from 11,270 to 10,125 and there is an indication that visa restraints are behind this drop.

But there was a 1% increase in students from the US with 10,205 enrolled in 2014/2015 making the US the second biggest supplier of non-EU students, behind China with 58,845.

Non-EU students used to be able to stay in the UK after finishing their studies, but new rules mean they must leave the country and apply for a work visa if they want to take up a job.

Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kent, believes that more should be done to attract overseas students.

“The UK has the potential to be one of the world’s fastest growing destinations for international students. It is essential that the UK government presents a welcoming climate for genuine international students and academics and ensures that visa and immigration rules are proportionate and communicated appropriately,” said Goodfellow. “We would also like to see enhanced opportunities for qualified international non-EU graduates to stay in the UK for a period to gain professional experience and contribute to the economy.”

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