UK eyes turn to India as China's interest falls

February 24, 2006

India could replace China as the number one target of UK universities recruiting overseas students, new figures suggest.

While the previously booming recruitment market in China has suffered a sharp reversal in the past year, a strong upward trend in the intake of Indian students shows no sign of faltering.

The latest admissions figures reveal a 7 per cent increase in the number of Indian students applying to UK universities compared with last year's figures. More than 1,000 applicants from India had applied by the January 15 closing date, according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. The British Council said this was in line with continuing growth in the student recruitment market in India, which fuelled a 31 per cent increase in the number of Indian students studying in the UK from 2002-03 to 2004-05.

By contrast, while the number of Chinese students in the UK was also increasing until 2004-05, the number of new applications has gone into decline. Figures released last week by Ucas show a 13.6 per cent drop in the number of Chinese students seeking a place at UK institutions for this autumn. Vice-chancellors have warned that the recent fall in the number of Chinese applications, which is partly responsible for an overall 4.3 per cent drop in overseas applications this year, will hit their budgets hard.

But sustained growth in the number of Indian applications, as well as increasing intakes from new markets, could help compensate for the short-term loss in fee income from China.

Pat Killingley, director of education services for the British Council, pointed out that there was still some way to go to achieve this goal. It has been estimated that Indian students are worth about £116 million a year in fee income to UK institutions. The number of applications to British universities from Indian students rose this year to 1,021 - 68 more than in 2005 - while the number of Chinese applications dropped by 437 to 2,766.

But Maroos Raza, South Asia regional director for Middlesex University, which recruits more Indian students than any other UK institution, thinks the Indian market could easily be ten times bigger in ten years.

He said: "There is sufficient reason to believe that this will be possible because of the growth of the population, the Indian obsession with education and the fact that demand is still not being met by institutions in India."

The British Council and the Government are encouraging further success in India with a £10 million UK-India education and research initiative, due to be launched in both countries in April.

The main thrust of the initiative will be to promote and support research partnerships in science and the social sciences in the UK and India, and develop joint courses such as split masters and PhD programmes.

Matched institutions will be able to request support through a bidding process for research projects, staff and researcher exchanges, and the development of jointly delivered programmes.

By 2011, the project aims to have established 70 collaborative research projects and 40 UK award programmes delivered collaboratively in India with 2,000 Indian students enrolled. Its targets also include adding 2,000 Indian students to those completing research degrees in the UK; a further 300 Indian researchers, research students and staff working in the UK; and 200 UK researchers and 200 UK students working or studying in India.

Lord Patten, the chancellor of Oxford University, revealed last week that he planned to visit India next month as part of an overseas student recruitment drive.

Wolverhampton University will open an office in New Delhi this week. The university has employed a manager and a recruitment officer to persuade students in the Indian capital to study in the West Midlands. They will also be in charge of forging links between Wolverhampton and other universities in India.

tony.tysome@thes.co.uk

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