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UK: Rising student numbers overseas, falling student application numbers at home

Two new sets of data out of the UK present interesting information in terms of student numbers in that country’s higher education system.

The Universities & Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) released on 30 January the most current application numbers for full-time undergraduate education for the coming fall. These figures have been eagerly anticipated, with widespread fears that changes in the higher education funding framework across the UK would have a ‘chilling effect’ on applications. Although the numbers are indeed lower than last year (down by 7.4% overall), the bottom does not seem to have dropped out of the application pool. Notable findings include the fact that the drop in application numbers between 2012/13 and 2011/12 is more pronounced among male applicants (-8.5%) than female applicants (-6.7%), and among applicants domiciled in England (-9.9%), as opposed to those from any other part of the UK (Northern Ireland, -4.4%; Scotland, -1.5%; Wales, -1.9%). Also interesting is that fact that while applications from UK-domiciled students have dropped an average of 8.7% and those from among other EU countries have fallen 11.2%, applicants from non-EU countries are up 13.7% over last year. The non-EU surge is most apparent among applicants from the Middle East (+ 12.8%), Malaysia (+ 14.2%), Australasia (+20.4%), and Hong Kong – which has so far registered a whopping 37% increase in application numbers over last year. Perhaps most surprising, UCAS notes that the “decreases in demand are slightly larger in more advantaged groups than in the disadvantaged groups”. Further, “applications are already 50 000 ahead of the number of acceptances in 2011”, such that demand will likely “outstrip the number of places available” in UK higher education in 2012.

On a more international note, the latest figures (from 2010/11), released this month by the country’s Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), show robust growth in the student population studying “wholly overseas” in UK higher education institutions. Such students are defined by HESA as being either registered with a reporting UK higher education institution or studying for an award from such a reporting institution. The HESA statistics break down these data geographically, including information on whether the overseas students are studying somewhere within the European Union (EU) or outside of the EU. They also differentiate the numbers by level of study (i.e. first degree, other undergraduate, postgraduate or further education). Growth is apparent across all of these categories except “other undergraduate” within the EU. The overall increase between 2009/10 and 2010/11 stood at just over 23% – from 408 685 students to 503 795, respectively. However, growth was even more dynamic for the first degree student population outside of the EU—this category registered an increase in numbers of 32.5%. All told, students studying wholly overseas accounted in 2010/11 for about 20% of the student population enrolled in UK higher education institutions. More information is pending from HESA with regard to breakdowns by specific countries.

Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) Universities & Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS)