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UK: ‘don’t take int’l UG numbers out of proportion’

The proportion of international students applying to undergraduate courses at UK universities is largely level with previous years, the outgoing head of UCAS has stated.

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The 13% of placed students being international is unlikely to "change hugely" this year

Speaking at a HEPI webinar on August 14, Clare Marchant said that it is “important” that international undergraduate application figures are not taken out of context.

“International students have got a lot of press attention [recently],” Marchant said. “It’s important to not get it out of proportion at an undergraduate level.”

The 13% of placed students being international is unlikely to “change hugely” this year, she continued.

“We know [international students are] absolutely pivotal to diversity at institutions,” she noted, “so I think understanding it in context is really, really important.”

She highlighted that competition for undergraduate places in 2023 is due to UK demographic increases that are set to continue at around 3% per year until 2030. However, the entry rate for UK students is expected to be largely similar to previous years, at around 37%.

Marchant described some reports on domestic students ‘losing out’ places to international students as “speculation”, but said that the “proof will be in the pudding” after universities go through clearing on August 17.

Outgoing chair of BUILA, Bobby Mehta, recently told The PIE that that issue is “about domestic student funding”, also pointing out that international student growth has been at a postgraduate level in recent years.

At clearing, the 28,000 courses available to UK students are “only a couple of hundred down on this point last year”, Marchant said.

“We’re not seeing massive changes in terms of those broad numbers of courses [available for UK students].

“This is broadly consistent with previous years. Of course, different courses will have different numbers of places on them so that’s also worth remembering,” she acknowledged.

“But we are not seeing it at either sector wide, we’re not seeing it when we look at sub-sector… But, we’re in an environment where universities can recruit up to the number that is feasible.”

UCAS outgoing boss, Clare Marchant has recently been named as the new vice-chancellor of University of Gloucestershire.

She also warned that the UK needs to be “welcoming to those undergraduate international students who want to come and study here” as the country’s higher education sector is “competing in a global market”.

“[It is always worth] keeping an eye on market share versus Australia, Canada and the US,” she added.

“I’m a great believer that, having been on many UK campuses, that our international diversity, the diversity it brings, is something to be celebrated at an undergraduate level”.

The cost of living crisis is likely to impact students especially hard this year she warned, explaining that UCAS research has suggested that two-thirds of UK students are seeking to work part-time during their studies in the next academic year. The availability of housing is also a concern for the next cohort of students, she added.

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