The PIE understands that several universities are conducting post mortem reviews into the autumn intake, as these enrolment swings were largely unexpected.
Application volumes have remained high throughout the year but conversion was significantly lower than predicted.
The latest report from Enroly is based on a sample of 300,000 student offers across 43 anonymised institutions, and shows some significant shifts in the distribution of CAS issuance from UKVI.
The data shows that Nigeria has suffered the sharpest decline in student enrolments, dropping by 21.42% in the number of CAS and visas issued when compared to September 2022.
University stakeholders have been monitoring interest from Nigeria in relation to the ban on dependants that is due to come into force from January 2024; some predicted a rush to secure places this academic year, while others have been warning of reputational harm for the UK as a study destination.
The decline however, could be linked to the sudden devaluation of the naira, a factor which dramatically limits student mobility and access to foreign exchange.
Speaking on a PIE Webinar panel on the topic of diversity, Donal O’Connor, director of future students at the University of South Wales revealed that his institution had managed to avoid the drop by taking advantage of earlier CAS issuance.
“We started issuing our CAS on March 1 and by the time the naira crashed we’d issued the vast majority of our CAS so we were able to recruit a very healthy number of Nigerian students,” he said.
In addition to Nigeria, the Enroly data also indicates a 1.43% decline in the number of CAS and visas issued to Indian applicants for the September intake.
Flat or declining student numbers from India, the largest source market for majority of universities in the UK, will come as a shock to university leaders who are already concerned about finances.
The UK has seen exponential growth in Indian application volumes over the last four years since the Graduate Route was introduced.
“UK universities “are feeling international competition in a big way”
While improved diversity will be welcomed with increases in visas issued to Pakistani, Nepalese, Sri Lankan and Iranian applicants – the curbing of Indian numbers will be a concern.
Rob Carthy, director of international development at Northumbria University, said the university has seen substantial growth from India and has been looking at how to make that a stable and predictable market.
“[In relation to these statistics] our India picture is quite different to our Nigeria picture [this year] where we are seeing a reduction in Nigerian student numbers and we are already having those conversations about [the importance of] diversity” said Carthy.
Global competition to attract Indian students is fierce, with the US recently reaching its goal to issue one million visas to Indian non-immigrant applicants – while Australia also welcomed record numbers of Indian students in 2023.
Francis Glover, deputy director international at De Montfort University said UK universities “are feeling international competition in a big way” and “that isn’t going to change in the next few years”.
“The universities that will succeed will be the ones who are prepared to challenge existing processes and build a product that is truly desirable.
“Our India picture is quite different to our Nigeria picture”
“As part of this process we have to provide students with a positive applicant experience and agents with a stronger partner experience [to ensure we are competitive],” Glover explained.
The Enroly data also reveals the dependance of UK universities on a relatively small number of global education agencies.
Agent-recruited applications to the UK accounted for 58% of all students, rising to 71% of applicants who received a CAS or visa.
The top agents account for 9.85% of all international students with a CAS/Visa issued for the UK, with 25.22% of all students coming from the top 5 agents, and 33% from the top 10.
In recent years, the largest master agents have all become multi-destination specialists with many of the UK representatives rebranding or diversifying, meaning UK universities are competing on a global scale, even within their trusted recruitment partners.