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UK – annual snapshot the international dimensions

UK universities thrived in international education in the academic year 2018/19, despite the uncertainties surrounding Brexit, according to the International Facts and Figures 2020 report released by Universities UK this month.

The numbers of international degree-seeking students continued to rise in 2018/19 accounting for 20.7% of the total student population. The top five sending countries were China, India, the United States, Hong Kong and Malaysia. The fastest growing senders compared to 2017/18 were India (up 35.0%), China (up 13.0%), Romania (up 12.5%) and Poland (up 11.1%). The top sending countries within the EU were Italy, France and Germany, though all three showed a slight decrease with respect to the previous year.

The shares of research postgraduates among EU and non-EU international students were both around 10% of the respective groups, but EU students were more likely to study towards undergraduate degrees (69.1% of all EU students vs. 49.5% of all non-EU students) whereas non-EU students were more likely to study towards taught postgraduates programmes (41% of all non-EU students vs. 21.1% of all EU students). These figures will likely see some significant changes from 2021 when EU/EEA students will no longer be eligible for “home fee status” in UK institutions.    

The financial impact of COVID-19 was not yet reflected in the figures presented in the report. But given that living expenditure accounted for more than 50% of the revenue stream for higher education-related exports, reduced travel of international students into the UK will surely impact on this revenue stream even when international student numbers continue to grow outside the UK through TNE.

In 2018/19, there were 1.4 times as many students on UK TNE programmes worldwide (666 815) than there were international students studying in the UK (485 645). The top five host countries are Malaysia, China, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Hong Kong. The top host country for TNE outside of Asia is Egypt. Within Europe, UK TNE student number was up 9.5% since 2017/18  (it is the second largest market behind Asia with 62 930 students), notably in Greece (13 990, up 7.1%) and Cyprus (11 280, up 55.4% since 2017/18). The growth of TNE during and after COVID would be a focus of interest in the coming years.

In terms of staff mobility, almost 60% of the 91 805 international staff international staff came from the EU. The top five countries of nationality were Italy, Ireland, Germany, China and the United States. In the last five years, the number of Italian staff has increased by over 41.8% and surpassed Germany and Ireland. Between 2018/19 and 2014/15, the number of international staff at Scottish higher education institutions grew by 46.9%. 

For credit mobility, 7.4% of all UK-domiciled, full-time, first degree, 2018/19 graduates spent a period of their studies abroad. The largest proportion of mobile students are enrolled at UK higher education institutions in Northern Ireland (13.1%) and Scotland (10.8%). Across the rest of the UK, 8.8% of students in Wales are mobile, while England has the smallest proportion of students that were mobile (6.8%). The number of instances of outward mobility has increased by 18.1%, despite uncertainty around the UK’s continued participation in the Erasmus+ programme. The impact of Brexit remains to be seen in the coming two to three years.     

More information here.