The data, supplied by Enroly, is taken from a representative cross-section of UK universities and is based on over 58,000 international students.
The year-on-year comparison comes as universities enter a peak three-week window of CAS processing for the winter intake before admissions staff break for the Christmas holidays.
The numbers show that overall deposit payments are down by 52%, CAS issuance is down by 64% and visa issuance is down by 71% when compared to the same point in the cycle for January 2023 applicants.
The falls are partly driven by a collapse in the Nigerian market, where deposits and CAS/visa issued are down by 74.24% and 75.89%, respectively.
There are indications there will also be large falls in students from the UK’s largest market India as well, with deposits down 51.66% and CAS/visa issued down by 66.18%.
This trend continues to follow the pattern of the September intake previously reported in The PIE, where many institutions were forecasting much higher conversion rates than the eventual reality.
The shortfall in January intake will not come as a surprise and university leaders will be meeting at the BUILA directors’ forum this week to discuss the findings of the annual recruitment survey.
Catriona McCarthy, co-chair of BUILA, said, “It is clear that our sector is working through a challenging period.
“Changes to dependent permissions, as well as currency and cost of living issues are all having an impact, and our competitors are of course working hard to secure share. However, it is also important to remember that January 2023 demand was something of an exception, and so I’m certainly considerate of that fact when looking at both recent and year on year patterns.”
“It is clear that our sector is working through a challenging period”
Some universities have been running an additional winter intake this year with November or December course starts, but even when adjusted to account for these additional students the outlook on overall numbers remains bleak.
When taken together the December and January figures represent a 49% reduction in deposits and a 60% reduction in CAS issued compared to January 2023.
The picture will be greatly nuanced for each institution, with a vast number of variables in play. However the general consensus from industry insiders is that the UK is adjusting to realistic levels of demand after an exceptional period of growth.
Internally, factors such as speed of offer, CAS issuance, agent reliance, market reliance, fee level and increased global competition will all be looked at as causal factors.
However some students have reported difficulties in securing timely UK visa appointments as a barrier to enrolment.
Enroly found no difference in CAS-to-visa turnaround time when compared to January this time last year.
Donal O’Connor, director of future students at the University of South Wales, spoke to The PIE earlier in the year to explain that earlier CAS issuance had helped maintain student numbers and give maximum time to complete visa applications.
“I’m proud to say that our university has experienced only a minor downturn this January compared to the broader sector,” explained O’Connor.
“A key contributor to this resilience has been our intense focus on offer turnaround time. We’ve been particularly proactive in using technology [through Enroly] to our advantage, especially by maximising our ability to issue CAS much earlier in the cycle.”
With more than a month still to go before enrolment the picture could still change. Many more visas could still yet be issued and further analysis will be required when the intake closes in a month’s time.
Any fall in international student numbers will increase pressure on the government to outline a more sustainable funding model for the higher education sector as the UK enters a general election year.
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