25 September 2014

New report warns overseas students choosing UK’s competitors

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A new report published today looks at the latest trends in the recruitment of international students to UK universities, writes Joe Cryer. The Universities UK report argues that despite positive growth this academic year, there are still concerns over the sharp decline in students from some countries coming to British universities in the previous two years.

Recruitment of international students at British universities fell in both 2011–12 and 2012–13. The number of Indian students starting courses in the UK almost halved in two years. And the number of international entrants to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses fell by 10%, with postgraduate taught courses being particularly affected.

The new report surveyed universities on international student recruitment in the academic year 2013–14 and found some signs of growth, suggesting that the higher education sector in the UK is recovering from the past two years of decline. However, continued problems in terms of demand from India are highlighted as a significant issue, the number of Indian students having dropped an incredible 49% between 2010 and 2012.

It also reveals that the UK’s main competitors in the student recruitment market – namely Australia, Canada and the US – have seen significant increases in the same period, despite the fact that these findings come just weeks after it transpired that 4 British universities rank among the top 6 in the world. While the report’s findings that applications and enrolment have improved this year are positive, the stark difference between the UK and its competitors in this area raises important questions about the possible damage catch-all immigration policies and targets could be having on our higher education system.

Cross-party support for removing students from net immigration targets is becoming increasingly vocal. Earlier this week I listened to shadow Home secretary Yvette Cooper, at a Labour party conference event, set out how a Labour government would approach immigration targets. She said:

“We think immediately what should happen is that students, international university students, should be taken out of the net migration target straight away”.

After Nick Clegg’s call to remove students from the net migration targets at the end of August, the Conservative Party is now the only main Westminster party that hasn’t explicitly committed to removing international students from the UK’s net migration target. Calls to do so are growing within the party, with both Lord Heseltine and Mark Field MP, Chair of Conservatives for Managed Migration, urging the government to rethink its policy.

A recent poll, conducted for British Future and Universities UK, revealed that Conservative Party voters tended to have more liberal views towards international students than the overall UK population.

The new Universities UK report comes ahead of a joint Universities UK event with the thinktank Bright Blue at the Conservative Party Conference on Monday 29 September 2014. At the event Universities UK will make the case for international students to be removed from any net migration target after the General Election, as well as arguing for enhanced opportunities for them to stay on and work once they complete their studies.

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