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Int’l students apply to study at UK HEIs in record numbers – UCAS

International students from non-EU countries have applied for places at UK universities in record numbers, while there has been a modest increase in applications from EU students, the latest data from UCAS has revealed.

Photo: Pexels/ Negative Spaces

China has the largest cohort of non-EU applications, with figures rising by a third this year

According to figures from UCAS’s January deadline, despite a 1% decline in UK applicants,  a 9% increase from non-EU candidates meant the total went up for the first time in three years.

The number of applicants from the EU was shown to have increased by 1% to 43,890, while a record number of applicants from outside the EU was received – 63,690 applied to study in the UK.

“It’s welcome news – more EU and international students wanting to study in the UK”

China has the largest cohort of non-EU applications, with the figure rising by a third this year, up from 11,920 to 15,880.

Combined with applications from Hong Kong (5,100), the total is 20,980 applications – surpassing the number from Wales (18,850) and Northern Ireland (17,910) this year.

Meanwhile, despite concerns over Brexit, applications from Spain (7%), France (5%), Italy (3%) and Ireland (1%) also showed modest increases in application numbers to UK universities.

Application numbers from India also increased (5%) despite the country’s noted absence from the UK government’s recently expanded list of nations from which student visa applicants have to provide a “reduced level of documentation” in order to secure their Tier 4 study permit.

Commenting on the data, UCAS’ chief executive Clare Marchant said: “In this time of uncertainty, it’s welcome news to see more EU and international students wanting to come and study in the UK.”

UUK chief executive Alastair Jarvis described the figures as “great news”, that international students want to study in the UK, but he said the data only provides a partial view of the recruitment picture.

“International postgraduates will not apply via the UCAS undergraduate route, for example,” he explained, adding that the UK is not keeping pace with major study destinations such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

“We are calling for a new graduate visa that will make the UK more attractive to international students, allowing a wider range of employers, in all parts of the UK, to benefit from access to talented graduates from around the world.”

UKCISA chief executive Dominic Scott told The PIE that, although encouraging, the figures may be more the result of a fluctuating exchange rate than an increase in popularity.

“[Unbalanced growth] leaves us a little exposed to any changes in UK-China relations”

“These non-EU figures are obviously very encouraging but probably more about the strength of the pound than any changed perceptions of the UK,” he explained.

“The EU growth is welcome, given all the Brexit concerns, but disappointingly modest compared with recent years.”

Scott also warned that UCAS figures need to be treated with some caution when used as a predictor for the market in general – though the increased interest from China is a positive sign, he concluded.

But Nick Hillman, HEPI director, warned the relative imbalance in the volume of applications between China and other countries could be risky for the industry in the UK.

“If I have a regret, it is that other countries are not sending people to the UK in the sort of relative volumes that China is doing, not least as this leaves us a little exposed to any changes in UK-China relations,” Hillman told The PIE.

As for EU student applications, Hillman maintained that the real test will come when EU citizens will no longer have access to subsidised fee loans and will have to pay international fees.

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