HESA statistics show that the international student numbers continued to grow, after the country famously hit its 600,000 target for 2030 a decade early.
The 2021/22 figures indicate that total non-EU enrolments rose to 559,825 from 452,225 in 2020/21, while overall EU student numbers fell to 120,140 from 152,905 the previous year.
Looking at first-year students only, EU figures – a cohort of students that lost UK home fee status in August 2021 – plummeted from 66,680 to 31,400 in 2021/22.
First-year student numbers from non-EU countries have continued an upward trajectory, hitting 350,325 in 2021/22 – an increase of over 85,000 compared with the previous intake.
Overall, the first data release for the year shows a 24% rise in non-EU students and a 21% fall in numbers from EU countries, HESA noted.
The data signals that international postgrad research student numbers have remained fairly level, with non-EU students making up for a drop of almost 2,000 in PGR students from the EU.
A total of 46,350 non-UK PGR students enrolled in 2021/22.
Previous research has warned that the UK is losing ground to Germany and Canada in attracting international doctoral students. Non-EU PGR entrants, especially from China, have been driving the UK’s overall recruitment performance, the UUKi/ Education Insight 2022 report found.
The postgraduate taught programs tell a vastly different story.
“The number of first-year students coming from the EU has gone down by 53% since 2020/21”
Total non-UK PGT students continued to climb to 326,150 (up from 243,560 in 2020/21), and non-EU students are the cohort that drove the growth.
EU PGT numbers fell from 31,045 to 22,775 in 2021/22. In contrast, non-EU PGT numbers have reached 303,375, up from 128,645 in 2017/18.
Non-EU PGT students have been behind the over growth in PGT international students in the UK. Photo: HESA
Overall UK universities enrolled 2,862,620 students in 2021/22. First-year students made up 1,288,160 of the total.
The 350,325 non-EU first-year students had a rise of 32% compared with the 2020/21 academic year.
Chinese students continue to make up the largest cohort of non-UK students, reaching a total of 151,690 in 2021/22. HESA noted that the overall number of students from India stood at 126,535, a rise of 50% compared with the previous year when UK institutions hosted 84,555 students from the country.
The organisation highlighted a “noticeable decline in first year enrolments within the top 10 EU countries [between 2017/18 and 2021/22], except Ireland, who replaced France for highest first year enrolments for EU domiciled students in 2021/22”.
“The number of first year students coming from the EU has gone down by 53% since 2020/21, while the number of non-EU international first year students has gone up by 32%, and the number of UK first year students has decreased very slightly, by 2%,” Lucy Van Essen-Fishman, lead policy & research analyst wrote for HESA.
Along with the impact of the loss of home fee status for EU students and the graduate route attracting international students from non-EU countries, she added that “the 2021/22 academic year was marked by increased freedom of movement when compared with earlier phases of the pandemic”.
In 2021/22, 27% of all non-EU students were from China, HESA highlighted, adding that the number has increased by 44,475 or 41% over the five-year period 2017/18 to 2021/22. Indian students in turn made up 23% of all non-EU enrolments.
HESA pointed out that numbers from Malaysia saw a decline of 21% over the five years, dropping below Nigeria, in addition to the US, Hong Kong and Pakistan.
United Arab Emirates and Bangladesh rose into the top 10 non-EU student source countries in 2021/22, it added.
University College London, The University of Manchester, The University of Edinburgh retained their places as the top three universities enrolling the most international students. All increased their international numbers, with Edinburgh leading the way in increases, rising from 15,590 to 18,050.
The University of Glasgow leapfrogged King’s College London (17,155 internationals) and Coventry University (15,565), to host the fourth most international students in 2021/22. It enrolled 17,390 students from overseas.
In 2022, Glasgow warned international students not to travel to the city unless they had already arranged accommodation.
UCL (24,145 international), University of the Arts, London (12,060), Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine (11,320), BPP University (8,525), London School of Economics and Political Science (8,520), Royal College of Art (1,880) and London Business School (1,875) all hosted more non-UK students than domestic students.
Cranfield University enrolled 2,715 UK and 2,685 non-UK students.
The data also showed increases in transnational education study.
“Over the five-year time series, postgraduate study in EU countries has increased year-on-year”
Outside the EU, 448,750 students were enrolled on UK TNE programs, with 83,710 from inside the region doing the same.
Since 2017/18, the number of enrolments at UK overseas campus outside of the EU has risen from 27,480 to 33,885 in 2021/22, while in the EU the figure has gone from 875 to 3,900 over the five years.
Overall the 2021/22 TNE numbers were up by 44,365, with HESA highlighting Liverpool John Moores University and The University of East London seeing 7,305 and 4,855 number growth, respectively.
“Both providers have expanded their partnership provision and as a result, almost doubled their student numbers from 2020/21,” the organisation said.
Courses through overseas partner organisation was the most popular type of provision within EU (28,195 enrolments), and outside the EU, other arrangements including collaborative provision saw the highest number of enrolments, attracting 201,280 enrolments.
“Over the five-year time series, postgraduate study in EU countries has increased year-on-year,” HESA said. The figure hit 40,990 in 2021/22.
Outside the EU, postgraduate study has increased since 2018/19, from 95,965 to 138,045 in the latest academic year where data is available.
In 2021/22, 66% of students based overseas were enrolled in undergraduate program, HESA added.