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England: First decline in growth of international enrolment in 29 years

For the first time in 29 years since the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) began collecting data on international enrolments in UK higher education institutions in 1994-95, English higher education has seen a decline in the growth of international enrolment (2012-13). This is one of the results of the recent HEFCE study “Global Demand for English Higher Education”, which examines shifts in international student enrolments in English higher education institutions and explores possible causes of such changes. 

The decrease is reflected in several categories on non-UK students: full-time EU undergraduates (a fall by almost 25% in 2012-13), international students in full-time undergraduate STEM courses (8% decrease), and Indian and Pakistani post-graduate students (-26% and -17%, respectively). Given that international and EU entrants represent over half (53%) of overall non-UK enrolments and even as high as 65% in postgraduate programmes, this is food for thought for English higher education institutions and their long-standing leading position in attracting international students. 

At the same time, nevertheless, transnational education (TNE) is one of the areas of growth (+5% in 2012-13), with more international students doing degrees with English higher education outside England than in England. Most of the international students are based in Asia, according to the study. Undergraduate level accounts for about 85% of TNE. 

Quality of education has been one of the strongest attracting factors, according to the study. From a longitudinal perspective, decreasing international enrolment has been mostly followed by certain economic influences, such as the introduction or increase of tuition fees in English higher education institutions or financial crises in students’ countries of origin. The infamously strict UK immigration policies are considered to take their toll as well, but some fluctuations in enrolment numbers appear to be equally related to visa procedures in other countries: the increase in enrolments in England from 2001 is linked with a stricter immigration policy in the US while the decrease in the number of Indian and Pakistani students in 2012-13 is associated with facilitated visa procedures for students in Australia (2012) and a higher number of enrolments from these two countries in Australian universities. 

Despite the downward trend in some areas, English higher education remains popular internationally. The results of the study, though, point to increasing global competition and not surprisingly, from the English-speaking countries such as the US or Australia. 

Full report (PDF)