UK business schools and their surrounding economies lost an estimated £133.5m last year due to an 8.6% drop in non-EU enrolments, according to the Chartered Association of Business Schools.
Moreover, some of the respondents admitted that because of visa processes becoming more burdensome, they are automatically rejecting applicants from “troublesome” countries.
“It’s a shake out of schools toward the bottom end of the hierarchy”
Results from a CABS online survey of 45 business schools show that around 90% of respondents agreed that changes to post-study work visa availability, and reporting of government policy, have had a negative impact on international student recruitment.
Another 80% have said the cost of bureaucratic visa processing and immigration monitoring has negatively affected their ability to attract foreign students.
Numbers from the past five years reveal that growth in enrolments has stagnated while globally, the number of mobile students rose 2.4%, according to UNESCO. Meanwhile, competitor markets including the US, Denmark, Spain and countries across Asia have enjoyed significant growths in enrolments.
Sector-wide concerns are reflected in enrolment figures from HESA that show the total of non-EU students studying business and administration in the UK saw its sharpest decline to 101,000 from 105,000 last year. However, shrinking numbers are not distributed evenly across the sector.
“The top schools are doing well,” said Simon Collinson, chair of CABS, who called the current situation a “shake out of schools toward the bottom end of the hierarchy”, including FE colleges.
“Universities have not been hit that hard,” he added. Still, he said the negative impact on local economies is a cause for concern for all providers. “The knock-on effect on the economic income goes beyond wealthy business schools and universities.”
As a result of shrinking enrolments, many schools say they are now in a period of consolidation. One dean reportedly said that if his school has the same number of international students in five years time as today, he would take that.
And because of tightened regulations around the amount of rejected applications, 6% of respondents admitted to automatically rejecting students from particular countries because of anticipated visa problems.
Respondents also report that more students are increasingly coming from fewer countries, with China providing the largest increase in student numbers over the last three years for nine schools.
Providers say less diversity opens them up to new risks of over reliance on one source country and undermines a key goal of recruiting international students.
“If one of the objectives of international recruitment is to provide domestic students with an international experience by having a multinational classroom then it is failing in many cases, especially at postgraduate level where many classrooms are dominated by a single nationality,” the report notes.
“The UK may find that its global influence declines as alumni in senior positions in business have instead attended other nations for their higher education”
It adds that the £133m loss could be only the tip of the iceberg of the overall impact to the HE sector, as one third of all international students in UK universities are studying in a business school. In postgraduate taught programmes, such as the MBA, the proportion grows to more than half (52%).
“Universities encourage international recruitment and they set business schools revenue targets in order to generate income to subsidise other parts of the university,” the report states. “The university sector is now very dependent on this revenue for survival.”
Several organisations have shown their support for the report, including Universities UK.
“International students and staff make an enormous contribution to the UK, academically, culturally and economically,” noted UUK CEO Nicola Dandridge.
“If the UK wants to fulfil its potential in this growth area, it must present a welcoming climate for genuine international students and academics and ensure that visa and immigration rules are proportionate and communicated appropriately.”
CABS has called for more consistency in the implementation of the current visa regime, but ideally, an overhaul of current post-study work policy and inclusion of international students in net migration figures.
“In the longer term, the UK may find that its global influence declines as alumni in senior positions in business, government, cultural, academic and research fields around the globe have instead attended Canadian, Australian, American or other nations for their higher education,” the report argues.