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UK: non-EU undergraduate applications fall

Non-EU applications to British universities at undergraduate level have fallen for the first time in six years in a further sign that the government’s visa regime is starting to deter students at tertiary level. UCAS figures up to mid November show overseas applications for the 2013 cycle 0.8% down on the same time last year to 15,860.

While the drop is small, applications received at this point last year were up 11% and have risen every year since 2006 when they totalled 10,700.

Dominic Scott of the UK Council of International Student Affairs (UKCISA) told The PIE News: “After increases in the past it does suggest that there are now signs of at least a plateauing if not a downturn. Interestingly ministers have said that good UCAS figures show that visa reforms are not putting off university students. This could now be beginning to change.”

“After increases in the past it does suggest that there are now signs of at least a plateauing if not a downturn”

Many argue that a combination of high fees, bad PR (surrounding London Metropolitan’s high profile loss of HTS in particular) and unwelcoming visa policies are putting overseas students off the UK. While non-EU enrolments at undergraduate level climbed 4% this year, student visa issuance at all levels was down 21% in the year to June, and tertiary enrolments from India are said to be down 9%.

Scott said the new figures could show the delayed impact of abolishing post study work rights in April. “Looking at 2013 it could be that students have had more time to look around and think about the choices, and therefore we could be beginning to see the effect of those policy changes coming into this year.”

Others, however, said it was too early to make judgements. “Experience tells us that changes at this point in the cycle are a poor guide to final demand,” said UCAS chief executive, Mary Curnock Cook. “For example, in the 2012 cycle the decrease in applicants in November was much greater than the final picture in January.”

“Falls, in particular to the English universities this year, are a wake-up call”

The non-EU results join a much larger 9.6% drop in UK-originated applications which many blame on the £9,000 fees cap introduced in 2012. EU applications fell by 0.9% after a steep 13.1% drop last year, also thought to be driven by the cap.

According to Universities UK, the percentage of EU students at British universities is likely to fall between now and 2026 by 7.5%.

“We’re finally realising that EU students are important to us in universities,” Vincenzo Raimo, director of the international office at the University of Nottingham, told The PIE News. ”For too long we’ve ignored them focusing instead on fee paying international students. Falls, in particular to the English universities this year, are a wake-up call.”

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