UK losing out to US and Australia in race for overseas students

The UK’s slight growth in international student recruitment over the past year overshadows a “global underperformance” when compared with other countries, an analysis has warned

February 24, 2015

A British Council report, which analyses Higher Education Statistics Agency figures and Home Office data on student visa issuances, finds that the UK’s market share of international students will continue to decline in 2014-15 amid continued US domination, as it has for the past three years.

“The good news for UK higher education is that the number of new international enrolments grew in 2013-14 for the first time in three years,” the report says. “The bad news is that the UK continues to lose out to rival host destination countries, particularly Australia and the US.”

There was an increase of 4.6 per cent in the number of new international students enrolling in the UK in 2013-14 compared with the previous year – a total of 2,835.

The UK’s overall competitiveness may have “simply returned to its long-term equilibrium”, the report speculates, pointing out that the rapid growth seen from 2009 to 2011 was “ultimately unsustainable”. If this is indeed the case, a recent three-year decline in market share is “a course correction rather than a sign of lagging competitiveness”, it adds.

Australia has shown strong growth in its new international enrolments over the past two years. The country reversed a three-year recruitment decline in 2013, registered a modest increase of 2.6 per cent and saw a 12.3 per cent rise the following year. However, this recovery means the country has only just returned to its 2009 recruitment levels.

According to Jeremy Chan, the British Council’s head of research and consultancy in East Asia and author of the report, despite this surge it is the US sector that offers “the greatest source of competition for the UK sector over the long term”. The US has outpaced all other major markets by a considerable margin since 2009, the report says.

“That the UK higher education sector returned to growth in 2013-14 is…cause for cautious optimism,” Mr Chan concludes, “but it remains unclear whether this growth was a result of favourable policy changes in the UK offer or simply the result of a rising tide lifting all boats”.

chris.parr@tesglobal.com

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