Business courses relying on international students to survive

Report confirms continuing decline in popularity of traditional MBA

October 11, 2019
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Business schools in the UK are incredibly reliant on international students, who made up nearly 70 per cent of postgraduate students between 2015-16 and 2017-18, a report has shown.

The report from the Chartered Association of Business Schools found that international students made up the bulk of graduates from UK master’s courses across all subjects within business and administration studies, except for two.

Health and care management, and land and property management were the only subjects where non-EU students did not comprise at least half of graduates over the last three years.

Although health and care management had the largest proportion of UK students – nearly 90 per cent – it was also one of the few subject areas to see a drop in students between 2015-16 and 2017-18.

Overall, the number of graduates in business masters (excluding MBAs) increased from 44,345 to 49,835 over this period, including an increase in the total of UK students, from 8,790 to 11,120.

But overseas students can be a risky group to rely on, with international policies and tensions affecting where they go. In the US, anti-immigration rhetoric and policies have resulted in a decline in international applications to business schools and UK business schools have seen their numbers affected by immigration policies in the past.

Anne Kiem, Cabs’ chief executive, said the report “confirms the continued demand for business and management courses, as well as the importance of international students in making programmes viable”.

“They provide the numbers to make many programmes at postgraduate level viable and therefore available for those domestic students who do wish to study them,” she said. “Importantly, international students bring experience of working in a different culture to the classroom and that in itself is a learning opportunity for everyone else.”

Ms Kiem said that business schools “were pleased” by the government’s recent decision to restore post-study work visas.

The proportion of international students grew rapidly between 2007 and 2011, and since then it has been quite stable, she said. However, Ms Kiem added that “business schools have had to work quite hard at keeping their numbers up because of the hostile environment on immigration. As a result we have lost market share as internationally mobile student numbers have increased dramatically”.

The report also confirmed the decline in popularity of the traditional MBA: the total number of MBA graduates has declined by 15 per cent since 2015-16. Graduates from non-EU countries have declined by 21 per cent since 2015-16, from 4,655 to 3,675.

However, according to Ms Kiem, although the death of the MBA has been heralded for years, “they are still with us and in demand”.

The increase in the number of specialist master’s courses perhaps accounts for some of the declining demand for the generalist MBA, she said. “It is noteworthy that the decline in demand for an MBA has mostly stemmed from international students, perhaps put off by the inability to stay on and work in the UK on completion,” she added.

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (2)

Just highlighting that the shape of UK universities is developed in response to institutional greed rather than national need.
Actually, it is not the business schools that are dependent on foreign students but the universities that are reliant on the 50%+ of revenues that they take from business schools to fund other parts of the university. The business schools could easily cut back on the foreign student numbers and improve the quality of both teaching and scholarship. However, that is not a decisions that is theirs to make nor one that would ensure that a business school dean lasted long in their job.

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