Jeff Williams, CEO and co-founder of Enroly, told The PIE that recent government rhetoric was the catalyst for the organisation to collate such data from a sample of 59,416 students from a selected subset of 29 institutions using the Enroly platforms.
Enroly automates the CAS, visa and arrival process for universities, students and agents and was able to analyse a sample which includes a mixture of Russell Group institutions, recruiting universities and private sector pathways. All students in the sample have either received a CAS document, received a visa or confirmed arrival in the UK in either the September 2021 or September 2022 intakes.
The data found that there has been a significant increase in the number of incoming international students to the UK who are bringing dependants. In the September 2021 intake, 6.41% of international students brought a dependant compared to September 2022 when 10.97% had done so.
This increase could be linked to the shift towards postgraduate study dominance as only postgraduate students can bring dependants. According to Williams, the UK is attractive to postgraduate students, since UK program durations are typically six to 12 months shorter than other destinations.
“Now the UK has brought the post-graduate route into play it’s driving interest”
“The UK is a great destination if you’re looking to do your masters from a duration perspective. Now the UK has brought the post-graduate route into play it’s driving interest, which is presumably the desired outcome,” said Williams.
He also highlighted that such an increase “makes sense” when other key findings are considered, such as the average age of a student coming into the UK, which is 26 years and seven months old as per Enroly’s data.
Nigeria, as a market, has increased by 141.76% percent year-on-year, across Enroly’s sample for incoming international students. The average age of marriage in Nigeria is 24 and the average birth rate is 5.32 – both figures perhaps contributing to relatively higher dependant rates compared to other large international markets.
“Given the shift towards postgraduate students in 2022, and growth in markets such as Nigeria, the percentage increase in dependants is to be expected when viewed in context,” said Williams.
The PIE recently reported that many leaders in the sector felt that international post-graduate students were being unfairly targeted in recent government rhetoric, especially surrounding the dependants they bring with them.
Nadhim Zahawi, chairman of the Conservative party and minister without portfolio, recently told Sky News that while he recognises that international students are a “really positive thing for our universities and communities”, has concerns surrounding students with high numbers of dependants.
“There are some people who are coming to study in the UK who are bringing five, six more people with them. Is that right? No,” said Zahawi.
However, Enroly’s data does not signal that this is a trend, as the sample showed that 45.89% of those bringing children brought only one child, with just 35.74% bringing two children.
The number of students bringing five children was extremely low – 0.21% in 2022. The percentage was the same for those bringing six children and the data found that in 2022, no international student brought seven children or more.
In a recent statement, Jamie Arrowsmith, acting director at Universities UK International, said that it is important to note that students who are eligible to bring dependants “must comply with all immigration rules, including paying the NHS surcharge up front and demonstrating that they have the necessary funds to support themselves and their families,”
“Now is the time to build on the UK’s leading position in international higher education,” he added.
“To do so, we should continue to welcome international students to the UK, and value the contribution that they – and their families – make to our country,” continued Arrowsmith.
Williams highlighted that a rise in numbers of dependants could be considered a “positive” thing for the UK, in particularly for the labour market, since such adult dependants have the right to work.
“We have a labour crisis in the UK. We should be embracing these dependants who often have skills that we need here in the UK as there are still many gaps we are struggling to fill,” said Williams.
“We should be embracing these dependants who often have skills that we need here in the UK”
“As the market evolves, bringing change to students and dependants, all that responsibility rests on the shoulders of the university.
“The thought that they’re just bringing these students in without any consideration is completely incorrect. They are taking this into account. You can imagine what an unenviable task it would be to have to potentially not allow someone to start their studies because they have a husband and a child. That’s moving into incredibly sensitive territory to be making a decision on someone’s life based on that information,” Williams added.
UUKi’s Arrowsmith agreed that universities take this role very seriously.
“Institutions must comply with stringent Home Office requirements to recruit international students, and any growth in international numbers has to be agreed with UKVI, based on detailed plans about how this growth is being managed,” he told The PIE.
“Policy should be driven by evidence. If there are genuinely held concerns or questions around compliance issues, then let’s have a grown up conversation based on timely, accurate and granular data that gives a true impression of what is happening on the ground – rather than speculation,” Arrowsmith affirmed.