“What we are seeing is a seismic shift in the global student market. UK higher education is still highly valued internationally, but the government has held down the growth of international student numbers for five years, by limiting new student numbers and post-study work visas,” author and CGHE chair Simon Marginson said.
“What we are seeing is a seismic shift in the global student market”
“Meanwhile, competitor nations are strongly promoting their international education.”
Marginson analysed UNESCO data to investigate student flow trends between 2011 and 2016, and then data from HESA and the Australian Department of Education and Training to track the UK and Australia specifically after 2016.
The gap between the UK and Australia started closing in 2013, Marginson told The PIE News, and the imminent takeover is the product of “an accumulation of effects.”
According to his analysis, Australia overtook the UK for non-EU students hosted in 2016 and its numbers are growing at around 12-14% a year, while the UK’s growth is stagnating.
Between 2011 and 2015, Marginson explained, the overall number of students entering the UK “flatlined,” with notable drops from specific countries such as India and Saudi Arabia, while East Asia and especially China rose.
Figures from HESA show that these trends, evidenced by UNESCO data, continued in 2016-2017, Marginson added.
“Unless UK policy changes tack, the nation will continue to lose global market share”
The UK remains very popular with EU students, but this could change after 2019 if EU students lose access to loans and are required to pay higher fees.
“Unless UK policy changes tack, the nation will continue to lose global market share. When the data for 2018 come in, it is possible that Australia will have already passed the UK in total international student numbers,” Marginson said.
While Australia will be the beneficiary on the global stage, in Europe the Netherlands, Germany and France will most probably host most of the EU students that the UK is likely to lose after Brexit.
Marginson also predicted that Canada, whose student numbers are rising at a fast rate, could eventually overtake the UK and relegate it in fourth position. But the trends for Canada as not as clear-cut as they are for Australia, Marginson told The PIE.
“Canada still has a long way to go to catch UK – in 2015 it had 40% the total numbers of UK and 49% the UK’s number of students from the Rest of the World… neither trend is likely to be linear over a long period and long-term predictions in this area are fairly meaningless,” he explained.
“In contrast it is easy to predict the fact that Australia is catching UK, the trend lines are already in the pipeline, and the catch-up is immediate.”
“Technically possible for Australia to overtake the UK but Australia would be less optimistic”
But IEAA CEO Phil Honeywood said although Australia might technically have a greater market share than the UK in 2019, by 2020 this could be totally reversed by a combination of factors that could see Australia losing ground in China to the benefit of the UK.
“While it might be technically possible for Australia to overtake the UK in 2019, most stakeholders in Australia would be less optimistic than Simon Marginson about that outcome,” he told The PIE.
“Australia’s currently bearing the brunt of geo-political negative impact which the UK, USA, Canada and even New Zealand do not appear to be as affected by.”
“It will be eighteen months before Australia potentially start to see substantial enrolment decline from the key source country China because of pathway programs currently in place,” he explained.
“In the meantime… the UK government has reduced barriers for entry for study for Chinese students into the UK and that education agents in China are encouraging their students to study in the UK, in many cases over Australia,” Honeywood continued.
Commenting on the findings, UUKi director Vivienne Stern said students’ economic and cultural contribution benefits the whole country, not just London and other big cities, and enhances the UK’s long-term soft power.
“We encourage the government to do all it can to enable qualified international students to pick the UK as their study destination,” she said.
Australia hosted 624,001 students in 2017 according to the Department of Education and Training, and figures covering the period January-April 2018 indicate a 12% growth from last year.
According to IRCC figures, there were 495,000 student visa holders in Canada in 2017, and the number of visas that became effective during the first five months of 2018 was 106,070, compared to 75,190 in the same period in 2017.
Additional reporting by Anton Crace.