China to provide 'almost half’ of UK’s postgraduate growth

British Council report warns of overreliance on Chinese market in coming decade

October 6, 2014

British universities are set to become increasingly reliant on China for expansion in international postgraduate recruitment over the next 10 years as the UK loses market share to competing destinations, new analysis predicts.

Forecasting by the British Council suggests the UK will still be the world’s largest host of overseas postgraduates apart from the US in a decade’s time, with anticipated growth of 83,000 from 2013 onwards set to take the total to 241,000 by 2024.

However, the study estimates the annual rate of growth in inbound recruitment by British universities is likely to slow to an average of 3.5 per cent, compared with 4.1 per cent between 2007 and 2012. The US, Australia, and Canada are expected to expand more quickly.

Significantly, 44 per cent of the UK’s growth is set come from Chinese students, leading researchers to warn that the sector’s future development “hinges critically upon just one market”.

Postgraduates from India are forecasted to make up only 9 per cent of the expansion in Britain’s overseas intake, meaning Nigeria is on course to overtake it by sending the second highest number of postgraduates to the UK behind China in 2024.

India, the fastest growing source of international postgraduates, is instead projected to account for significant proportions of expansion in competing nations – and could represent 54 per cent of US enlargement.

Zainab Malik, the report’s author, argued more balanced enrolment may pay dividends for recruiting countries.

“We knew China and India would be a big part of the story, but were surprised at the level of dependence on these origin countries,” said Ms Malik, director of research at the British Council’s Education Intelligence team.

“Considering the numerous factors that can affect international student mobility, diversifying postgraduate recruitment strategies may not only help lessen that dependence but also broaden and deepen global skills and knowledge exchange.”

To draw up the predictions, the researchers looked at projected growth in countries’ university-age population and GDP to calculate the number of students expected to enrol in higher education.

They then looked at the outlook for exchange rates and household incomes to consider how many people were likely to go abroad for postgraduate courses, before using current trends and bilateral trade forecasts to model where they were likely to choose to study.

The report suggests that China will send 85,000 postgraduates to the UK every year by 2024. It estimates that there will be 29,000 postgraduates from Nigeria, 24,000 from India and 15,000 from the US.

Recruitment from Indonesia, Vietnam and Russia is also predicted to increase swiftly.

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