HESA statistics show ‘stagnation’ for UK universities


International student enrolments in the UK have been stagnating over the past two years, the latest HESA statistics show, with a small increase from the EU that will potentially be affected by Brexit.

While the number of students from non-EU countries has followed a most downward trend since 2015, EU enrolments are up by almost 6% since 2015-2016.

However, the figures relate to the academic year 2016-17, and were collected before the EU referendum in June 2016.

“It’s not clear whether this increase will withstand the shock of the decision to leave the EU,” said Universities UK Policy Analyst Eleanor Jubb in an article eloquently titled ‘You say stability, I say stagnation’

“[The data] confirms what Universities UK has been saying for some time: the number of international students choosing to study in the UK is stagnating,” she said.

Some EU countries such as Italy, Spain and France show a strong growth, but Ireland bucks the trend with a 20% drop over the last four years.

Non-EU countries in the top 10 are overshadowed by China taking up nearly a third of all non-EU enrolments –  but student numbers from India and Nigeria have been declining over the past five years, and Malaysia also shows a 6% decrease since 2015-16.

To address the current stagnation and protect enrolment numbers against future challenges, Director of Universities UK International Vivienne Stern told The PIE News: “We would like to see the UK government adopting a cross-Whitehall strategy to support international education exports, enhance post-study work opportunities and improve the Tier 4 compliance regime.

“At the same time we’d like the government to increase funding for the GREAT and British Council-funded Study UK Discover You campaign which promotes our excellent universities around the world.”

This is especially important with Brexit on the cards.  “As the UK looks to build stronger ties around the world post-Brexit it’s also worth remembering that people who have studied here are 18% more likely to trade with us according to government analysis,” Stern said.

The data flagged up also a slight increase of 1% in the number of students enrolled in UK institutions by studying wholly overseas.

Of these students, 43%  were enrolled at Oxford Brookes University, the majority in a degree the university offers in partnership with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.

“Nearly 160,000 international students are registered to study for this degree in applied accounting from countries across the world including China, Malaysia, Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan,” Head of Accounting, Finance and Economics at Oxford Brookes Howard Brown told The PIE.

“The success of the programme is down to Oxford Brookes and ACCA’s shared vision of aiming to widen access to education.”

HESA statistics crunch data from 167 institutions and show a wealth of other information.

For example, international students are underrepresented at undergraduate level, and whereas England had the highest proportion of non-EU students, at 14%, Scotland had the biggest slice of the EU student cake at 9%.

For more insights, including the most international universities by proportion and number of international students, head to our Insider section.

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