The British Council, which oversees UK cultural relations and educational opportunities, said that the UK issued fewer study visas to students in East Asian countries in 2021 than it did in 2019.
This is despite an overall recovery in the number of incoming international students in 2021, after the sector suffered during the peak of the pandemic. In 2021, the UK issued over 40,000 more study visas globally than it did in 2019.
The report, 5 trends to watch in 2022 East Asia Edition, acknowledges that the decline across East Asia may be due to both “greater travel restrictions” and “greater willingness in the region to defer overseas study plans until after the pandemic has subsided”.
“Millions of consumers, as well as our agency members, are now turning to Japan and Singapore and we expect a long-term shift to nearby Asian countries,” said Jon Santangelo, spokesperson at BOSSA, China’s association of study abroad service agencies. “However, our data also proves that the UK has consistently outpaced the US and every other country worldwide for several years.”
Jazreel Goh, director of Malaysia / East Asia insights hub at the British Council, is also optimistic.
“All signs point to continued demand from the major markets in East Asia which remain the top region for student mobility to the UK in absolute numbers, particularly China which will remain one of the key pillars of the international education industry,” she said.
China accounts for approximately 75% of all UK study visas issued across East Asia but the flow of outbound students from China remained well below pre-pandemic levels to every major host destination in 2021, including the UK.
“The recovery will nevertheless follow a winding path”
“The recovery will nevertheless follow a winding path,” Goh said, “with challenges arising from the prolonged financial impact of the crisis, geopolitical tensions and a vast restructuring of the airline industry that will make travel more complicated and costly.”
Some 14 of the 16 East Asian economies included in the report are expected to grow faster over the next five years than they did over the past five years.
“As income levels rise… East Asia could see demand for UK education rebound in 2022 and beyond,” the British Council predicts.
For now, Goh said that UK institutions should “understand that prospective students in East Asia face a maze of obstacles and uncertainties in making overseas study decisions, churning up a tide of enquiries about everything from campus safety protocol to travel and visa logistics”.
Given heightened competition for international students, she advised them to “measure response times in minutes rather than hours or days”.