UK prepares to cash in on foreign boom

October 4, 2002

British universities are set to benefit from an unprecedented boom in foreign study over the next 20 years, according to an international report published yesterday.

Global demand for international higher education will rise from fewer than 2 million students in 2000 to more than 7 million in 2025 as the total number of students worldwide jumps from 97 million to more than 260 million, the Australian universities' marketing organisation estimates.

The forecasts will be welcomed by British universities as they strive to meet prime minister Tony Blair's target of an extra 50,000 overseas students by 2005.

Speaking at an international education conference in Hobart, Australia, yesterday, IDP Education senior researcher Anthony Bohm said that Asian students would dominate the global market, increasing from 43 per cent of the total in 2000 to 70 per cent within two decades. He said China and India would account for more than half of demand by 2025, but Turkey, Morocco and Iran could also enter the top ten source nations. "By 2025, demand from students in Europe and America will account for only 13 per cent and 4 per cent respectively - down from 32 per cent and 8 per cent in 2000," he said.

The British Council believes that UK universities are well placed to benefit from the growth in international demand. The sector enrolled 11 per cent more overseas students in 2001-02 than in the previous year, with the number from China up 71 per cent and from India up 37 per cent. Recruitment to first-degree courses from outside the European Union rose by another 17 per cent this autumn.

Suzanne Alexander, the council's director of promotions, said much of the growth was down to a streamlined visa applications process, improved arrangements for allowing overseas students to work, and a promotions campaign in support of Mr Blair's international recruitment initiative.

But she warned: "We do not necessarily have the capacity to continue to grow at the present rate. Institutions must look to take a responsible and proactive approach, ensuring they have the capacity and resources required by international students. We want the UK to continue to offer quality higher education."

Numbers of Chinese students at Nottingham University have risen from a handful ten years ago to more than 500 today. At the University of Warwick, numbers are expected to rise from 6 last year to about 400 this year - excluding about 200 on foundation programmes.

The IDP model is based on Unesco data and takes account of the expected expansion of higher education in 130 countries. "Despite the fact these countries are expanding their own systems, more students will be seeking to enrol in overseas universities," Mr Bohm said.

IDP executive director Lindy Hyam said: "Countries geared to enrolling international students, like Britain and Australia, will be well placed to provide these services in future."

The two countries could experience a significant boost to their national economies as a result of the rise in foreign student numbers, Ms Hyam said. Both could benefit indirectly from the tougher criteria for student visas imposed by the US in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

David Ward, chairman of the American Council on Education, which represents 2,000 colleges and universities, last month warned a congressional committee: "We are deeply concerned that efforts to implement the nationwide student-tracking system without adequately preparing campus officials and exchange-visitor programmes will make it harder for international students and exchange visitors to enter the country."

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