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UK: Non-EU applications rise despite visa fears

Non-EU undergraduate applications to UK universities have risen 8.5% since last year, despite fears that Britain’s student visa policies are damaging its appeal as a study destination. Meanwhile, applications from the within the UK and elsewhere in the EU have fallen 8.9% and 12.9% respectively – reinforcing the importance of international students within the tertiary system.

"The real risk for the UK is that these talented individuals will choose to study elsewhere because of prevailing visa policies"

The statistics from UCAS, which are based on the June 30 deadline for making specific undergraduate university choices (after which applications go into clearing), show more than 61,000 non-EU applications, up from 56,000 the year before.

This is on a par with full, end-of-year figures for 2011 (61,500). Some 30,000 people from both the UK and overseas applied after June 30 last year suggesting the final 2012 figures will be higher.

Michael Worton, vice provost of University College London, told The PIE News: “This is not a surprise, since the UK still has a very strong profile in the international student market… Our assumption is that the vast majority of students will have their visas in time to enrol at the beginning of next session, as long as they have started the process in time.”

“This is not a surprise, since the UK still has a very strong profile in the international student market”

However, Christine Ennew, pro vice-chancellor for internationalisation at the University of Nottingham, said: “While it is encouraging to see that non-EU applications to study in the UK are continuing to rise, it is arrivals that really matter.

“Good students will receive offers from multiple institutions and multiple countries and the real risk for the UK is that these talented individuals will choose to study elsewhere because of prevailing visa policies.”

The UCAS data were on balance gloomy for UK universities. As the tuition fees cap rises to £9,000 for the first time, domestic applications have fallen from 566,000 to 515,600 – a drop of 8.9%, the biggest in 30 years – although applications still outnumber available places by a clear margin.

Applications from elsewhere in the EU also fell – from 47,600 to 41,500. However in good news for Scotland, numbers climbed 5.3% which some put down to its free tuition for EU students (though not for those from the rest of the British Isles). Scotland also saw the highest jump in non-EU students at 18.6%.

Scotland also saw the highest jump in non-EU students at 18.6%

The director of Universities Scotland, Alastair Sim, said: “The fact that the increase in non-EU fee-paying applicants is three times that of EU applicants shows that a Scottish higher education is viewed not as a cheap option but as a quality option.

However he added: “These figures show the situation before the UKBA’s immigration changes and we remain concerned that these changes will limit Scottish universities’ ability to attract the brightest minds to Scotland.”

Sim said the Scottish government was currently looking at whether to charge those from elsewhere in the EU, but that it was unclear whether this would be achievable under EU law.

The latest statistics do not include postgraduate applications, which go on to take a greater proportion of enrolments. There were 163,890 non-EU postgraduate students in 2010/11 compared with 134,220 undergraduate.

However, a new survey from the Association of MBAs (AMBA) has found applications to full-time MBA courses, which rely heavily on overseas enrolment, fell by a fifth by the end of 2011 compared with the previous year. The survey looked at 41 AMBA-accredited business schools.

The AMBA blamed poor press in India over the UK visa regime, the restriction of post-study work rights and the rising cost of MBAs.

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