Falling international student numbers ‘cost UK £8 billion’

Stagnation in university recruitment accounts for £5 billion of shortfall, UKCISA conference told

June 30, 2016
Boy sitting alone on boat in field
Source: Alamy
Going nowhere: the number of non-European Union students enrolling in universities has stagnated since student visa controls were tightened in 2011-12

Immigration restrictions imposed on international students since 2011 have cost the UK economy nearly £8 billion, a new analysis says.

Stagnation in the number of non-European Union students enrolling in universities since the tightening of student visa controls in 2011-12 accounts for £5 billion of the shortfall estimated by Exporting Education UK, which represents colleges and private providers.

According to data collected by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the number of international students enrolled in UK universities grew by just 3 per cent between 2011-12 and 2014-15, and first-year enrolments were down by 3 per cent last year.

Exporting Education UK says that, had growth in non-EU enrolment continued at a similar rate to that of global competitors, gross domestic product would have been £2.9 billion larger than it was by the end of last year. This total, covering spending on tuition fees, accommodation and living costs, was expected to increase by a further £2.1 billion in 2015-16.

The report, launched on 29 June at the annual conference of the UK Council for International Student Affairs, also covers students following higher education courses in private colleges, further education institutions and pathway providers.

It finds that the sharpest reduction in enrolment has been in the private sector, where it estimates that student numbers declined by 72 per cent – or 38,000 individuals – between 2011-12 and 2013-14, after hundreds of providers were stripped of their licence to sponsor overseas learners.

Up to the end of 2015-16, the shrinking of this part of the sector is estimated to have cost the economy £2 billion.

When a sector-wide figure is calculated, with further education colleges also struggling to recruit to higher education courses, the shortfall against expectations is £7.8 billion.

Graham Able, chair of Exporting Education UK and deputy chairman of Alpha Plus, which runs five private colleges and 16 schools across the country, said that the UK was “falling behind and losing market share to rival destination countries such as the USA, Australia and Canada”.

“While global numbers of international students increase 8 per cent year on year, the UK is in decline,” said Mr Able, master of Dulwich College from 1997 to 2009. “Even universities are now posting negative numbers as the pipeline dries up.

“As well as losing the academic and cultural benefits and opportunities for collaboration that follow international students here, our higher education sector is missing out on billions of pounds which it relies upon to fund core domestic provision.”

The report recommends that the student visa system is reformed to improve opportunities for post-study work and internships, and to allow students to move more easily between institutions on the same visa, for example between an independent college and a university.


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