Decline in global demand for English HE

HEFCE analysis shows first dip in international student entrants to English higher education courses in nearly three decades

A study by HEFCE demonstrates that growth in overseas entrants to higher education in England has reduced significantly since 2010 – the first decline in 29 years. The study found that:

  • The numbers of international entrants to full-time postgraduate taught programmes in England decreased by 1% (1,000 students) between 2010-11 and 2012-13. This is in stark contrast to previous years, when international entry to postgraduate taught programmes enjoyed double digit growth. Entrants to English higher education institutions (HEIs) from India and Pakistan have halved since 2010, at the same time as their numbers are growing in other countries.
  • The numbers of full-time European Union (EU) undergraduate entrants (who have to pay the same fees as UK students) fell by almost a quarter in 2012-13 – probably as a result of the recent increase in tuition fees in England.
  • Around a quarter of all full-time undergraduate international entrants in 2012-13 were students who joined courses after the usual first year start point. This is likely to be in large part a result of students moving into courses in England from programmes delivered overseas by English HEIs, or through articulation arrangements with overseas institutions. Some progression also happens within the UK, when students study initially with another education provider and then progress into courses delivered by HEIs.
  •  Non-UK entrants to postgraduate taught provision are concentrated in postgraduate taught masters courses and are mostly studying full-time. The proportion of full-time taught masters entrants from outside the UK (including other EU countries) increased from 66% in 2005-06 to 74% in 2012-13. This aspect of postgraduate provision is increasingly exposed to changes in international demand.
  • There are almost equal proportions of UK and Chinese students in full-time postgraduate taught masters programmes. The proportion of UK students – who made up 26% of the full-time taught masters entrants population in 2012-13 – was only marginally higher than the proportion of Chinese students –23% of the same population.These proportions are influenced by declines in entrants coming from traditional UK postgraduate markets like India, Pakistan and Iran, coupled with continued growth in entrants from China.
  • Demand for transnational education (TNE) continues to grow, and showed 5% growth (24,500 students) in 2012-13 compared with the previous year [Note 2]. The highest concentration of TNE students is in South-East Asia, which accounts for 23% of the total TNE student population.
  • Given the generally shorter length of courses in England compared with other countries, high numbers of international students must be recruited on an annual basis to maintain current enrolment levels. International and EU entrants represent over half (53%) of overall non-UK enrolments. The proportion is highest in postgraduate programmes, where new entrants to higher education are 65% of total international and EU enrolments. Comparisons with other countries show that these proportions are high, with new entrants higher education in 2012-13estimated at 38% in Australia, 31% in the US and 33% in Germany.

To date, the debate around international higher education has been preoccupied by the issue of international student enrolments.

Professor Madeleine Atkins, HEFCE Chief Executive, said: “This new analysis from HEFCE expands our understanding of global demand for English higher education.

“International students enrich our universities and colleges – and our society – academically, culturally, and through their contribution to the economy. Supporting high-quality international education is a crucial part of ensuring that the UK continues to engage with, and benefit from, the increasingly interconnected world.”

The University and College Union (UCU) said tough domestic rhetoric on immigration and changes to student visas were doing little for the UK’s image abroad, especially at a time when other countries were doing more to attract international students.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “International students make a huge contribution to academic and cultural life on campuses and in our cities. They also make a valuable contribution to our economy. As we face continued uncertainty about the future of funding for our universities, the government should be doing more to encourage foreign students.

“Ministers need to recognise that attempts to sound tough on immigration at home are also reported elsewhere and it is not surprising if students consider studying in the countries that make an effort to welcome them.”

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