Overseas student numbers in UK up, but EU numbers fall

Number of international students in UK is at highest level since 2011, despite drop in arrivals from European Union

February 28, 2019
Airport arrivals lounge

The number of European Union students coming to the UK dropped by 26 per cent in the past year, but the number of overseas students from outside the bloc reached its highest level in seven years.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that 213,000 citizens came to the UK for formal study in the year ending September 2018 – the highest since 2011. About three-quarters of these, or 163,000, were from outside the EU, representing a 23 per cent rise since the previous year.

However, just 39,000 EU students came to the country, compared with 53,000 in the year ending September 2017 – representing a 26 per cent year-on-year drop.

The data are based on International Passenger Survey estimates of long-term international migration – which many have criticised as deeply flawed.

A spokeswoman at Universities UK welcomed the overall growth in the number of international students, but said the UK was still "not keeping pace with other major study destinations such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada".

“There is now a real opportunity for the UK to develop an immigration policy that recognises the value of all international students as temporary visitors and signals that the UK is open to these talented individuals," the spokeswoman said.

“We are calling for a new graduate visa that will make the UK more attractive to international students, allowing a wider range of employers, in all parts of the UK, to benefit from access to talented graduates from around the world.”

James Pitman, managing director for the UK and Europe at Study Group, a company that prepares international students for university, said that while the global higher education student market grew by 22 per cent between 2011 and 2016, the UK’s share rose by only 3.9 per cent in that period.

University College London research last year actually showed Australia overtaking the UK as a destination for international students, with other English-speaking nations such as Canada also making serious inroads,” he said.

“It’s important not to let these statistics take away from the fact that the government should be focused on growing education as an export and as part of this, should seriously consider recommendations put forward by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Students. The higher education sector needs as much support as possible in a challenging post-Brexit environment.”

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

With Brexit looming and a number of top ranking institutions on mainland Europe (with a growing number of courses now being taught in English), why would EU students come to the UK? Fees are also often much higher in the UK than on mainland Europe, certainly for undergraduate degrees. UK institutions should stop navel gazing and realise they are not as special as they think they are. There are much better 'deals' elsewhere, whether on mainland Europe or overseas.

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