The findings are based on statistics from the university application service UCAS, which show that UK-based open market international students – those already studying in the UK but not on a pathway programme – are the country’s biggest source market for non-EU students, outstripping even China in terms of supply.
Of the 36,000 international students accepted to UK universities in 2013, 37% were UK-based, despite only accounting for 27% of applications.
Direct overseas students made up half of the acceptances, despite accounting for 65% of applications.
Presenting the findings this week at TKP’s UK-Based International Students Event, senior consultant Sarah Beresford told attendees that UK-based prospective students provide a better return for investment for recruiters deciding where to spend their marketing resources.
Their success can be explained by a combination of factors including holding recognisable qualifications and higher levels of English proficiency, she explained. They are more likely to have access to the funding they need, as they are already managing to fund lower-level studies in the UK, Beresford commented.
“If as a university you are recruiting international students, you can’t ignore the fact that one quarter of them are in the UK when they apply and arguably the quality – in terms of how likely they are to convert – is much higher,” she said.
When TKP asked universities to estimate what proportion of international undergraduates were coming from within the UK, the median figure was between 11% and 20%
Speaking with The PIE News, Beresford said that when TKP asked universities to estimate what proportion of international undergraduates they thought were coming from within the UK at the start of their research, the median figure was between 11% and 20%.
“Over the three years that we have been researching the market, more and more universities have become aware of the significance of the number of international students that are applying from within the UK and are actively seeking to build relationships with schools and colleges to develop the market,” she said.
“But certainly if a university is not paying attention to UK-based international students then they will be missing out simply by reducing the size of their market audience by potentially as much as half for some subjects and nationalities.”
This is especially true for students from particular areas of the world. For example, nearly three-quarters of Vietnamese and two-thirds of Russian applicants are in the UK when they make their university applications, making them two and a half times more likely to apply from within the UK.
“There is also the question of how universities approach the market,” Beresford added. “For some institutions there is a risk that the opportunity to recruit international students from within the UK could fall through the gap between the international and domestic recruitment teams.”
UCAS statistics show that 68% of UK-based international applicants attend independent schools and 14% attend FE colleges, and a key theme of the day’s presentations was how institutions in the different sectors can work together more effectively.
John Mountford, International Director of the Association of Colleges (AoC), emphasised the importance of developing close relationships between FE and HE institutions.
“It’s really important for colleges to have a good network of universities to help emphasis the progression opportunities”
“It’s really important for colleges to have a good network of universities to help emphasis the progression opportunities available to international students,” he commented.
Both Mountford and Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, head of research at the Independent Schools Council (ISC), highlighted how visa restrictions impacting the schools and FE sectors can have an effect at higher levels given their importance as pipelines for university-level recruitment.
Lockhart criticised the harshness of Tier 4 study visa regulations including the recent amendment meaning that the number of accepted visa refusals is capped at 10%, saying that the measure disproportionately affects independent schools, which issue a relatively low number of Tier 4 visas.
“What’s a problem for independent schools is a problem for the HE sector,” he remarked, adding that 80% of international students who attend sixth form at an ISC school apply to a UK university.