China study visas to UK more than halve amid pandemic

But large upturn in Tier 4 visas granted to Indian students tempers overall fall

November 27, 2020
UK visa no date

The number of visas granted to students from China who want to study in the UK has more than halved in a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the latest data show.

However, the huge downturn in Chinese seeking to study in the UK was partly counteracted by another large rise in the number of visas granted to students from India, according to figures from the Home Office.

The data represent the first solid evidence of there being a major downturn in on-campus international student recruitment at UK universities for 2020-21. China has represented by far the biggest source of international students for the country in the past few years.

Overall, the number of Tier 4 study visas – which international students need to attend a full university course – granted by the Home Office fell by 36 per cent in the year to the end of September 2020, to 176,101.

Chinese students were still the most common nationality granted a visa, accounting for about 30 per cent of the total, but the actual number issued fell to 52,698 in the year to September from almost 120,000 the year before.

Covid-19 restrictions were imposed early on in the pandemic in China, and from January to March visa grants fell by 44 per cent. This was followed by a 100 per cent drop from April to June. But even from July to September, when restrictions were eased, there was a 43 per cent decline compared with the same period in 2019.

At the same time, visas granted to Indian nationals, which had already been on an upward trajectory in the past few years, rose by almost half in the year to September, to 44,992.

It means they accounted for 26 per cent of all Tier 4 visas – more than double the year before, when they made up 11 per cent – and now only a few percentage points behind China in terms of share.

The Home Office statistics show that even though the number of Tier 4 visas to Indian nationals fell by 48 per cent in the period from April to August, large increases in other months contributed to the rise.

Overall, the figures for all countries suggest that the number of UK study visas granted began to recover from July, when they were 90 per cent lower than the year before, followed by being 58 per cent lower in August and 21 per cent in September.

“Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, all visa application centres were closed by 31 March 2020. They began gradually reopening from June 2020. As a result, visa application and grant numbers were much lower than usual in the second quarter of 2020 (April to June), with no applications or grants in April or May 2020,” the Home Office says.

What is unknown is how many students may have applied to UK courses starting in the autumn but agreed to study online in the first instance with the intention of travelling to the UK later. Such students may not yet have been granted a visa even though they may be enrolled for 2020-21. Likewise, the granting of a visa does not necessarily mean that a student travelled to the UK.

Not all Tier 4 visas would have been granted for study at a university, but the latest figures available show that higher education made up 86 per cent of applications in the year to September 2019. Updated information on study visa applications is currently unavailable.

simon.baker@timeshighereducation.com

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