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UK: Non-EU student recruitment “worrying” says Universities UK

The UK’s higher education representative body, Universities UK, has said that despite signs of increasing demand among foreign students, long-term trends in student recruitment for the UK are “worrying” as Indian and STEM enrolments continue to decline.

In 2013, 18 institutions received at least 20% of their income from non-EU students

In the lead up to 2015’s general election, UUK is renewing its efforts to attract sovereign support for the sector calling on the government to take student numbers out of net migration figures and to launch an international student growth strategy.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of UUK this week urged leaders of the Conservative Party– the only main Westminster party that hasn’t already committed to removing international students from the net migration target after the general election– to back the sector.

Indian enrolments have halved in the last two years– while numbers soar in competitor countries

“It is important for our political leaders to recognise that a credible long-term economic plan must include the development and retention of a highly skilled workforce to allow the UK to compete successfully internationally,” she said.

A recent survey of 104 UUK member institutions reveals that non-EU students made up 13% of UK student populations, up from 10% five years earlier with growth concentrated among students from southeast Asia, mostly from China.

“The overall decline is slight, but it is in stark contrast to the strong growth in international recruitment witnessed pre-2010,” the survey’s report warns referring to the fall in overseas students seen over the past two years.

Sector-wide concern centres on Indian enrolments which have halved in the last two years– while numbers soar in competitor countries– and a 10% decline in STEM enrolments.

“This is primarily due to declining numbers of students starting courses in subject areas typically popular among international students from countries such as India, Pakistan and Nigeria,” the report states.

UUK argues that declining enrolments in STEM areas could also have knock-on effects for domestic students.

“International students support the provision of certain STEM subjects, thus enabling home students to study such courses,” it says. “Reductions in the number of entrants in certain areas could threaten course viability.”

Last year, the higher education sector generated £10.7 bn in earnings with foreign student fees accounting for 30% of total income. Off-campus expenditure accounted for an additional £3.4 bn boost to the national economy.

However, if enrolments continue to fall financial sustainability is also at stake as providers becoming increasingly reliant on non-EU student tuition. In 2013, 18 institutions received at least 20% of their income from non-EU students, up from 13 the previous year.

There are areas for optimism though as the organisation anticipates expansion from Brazil’s Science without Borders (SwB) programme and transnational education could result in an upturn.

The number of SwB students in the UK has risen from 519 undergraduate students in 2012 to just over 3,000 undergraduate students this year bringing the total number of students who will have studied in the UK –including postgraduates– to over 8,500.

Meanwhile the number of TNE students reached almost 600,000 last year and the Department of Business Innovation and Skills estimated the value of TNE to the British economy was just around £300 mn.

UUK has called for an international education growth strategy after the international education strategy resulted in a 2% decline of overseas students in 2013

“It is the non-financial benefits of TNE which are of value to the UK higher education sector,” the report concedes. “The building of international relationships with overseas partners plays a key part in the development of soft power and potentially in facilitating mobility to the UK.”

To maintain the signs of growth, UUK has urged the government to rectify its current policy and ensure that immigration reform slotted to come into effect this year doesn’t deter foreign students.

It has also called for an international education growth strategy after the international education strategy announced in 2012 resulted in a 2% decline of overseas students in 2013.

“The current one-size-fits-all approach to immigration does not work and must be changed,” said Dandridge.

“If we attract skilled and talented individuals from around the globe then in turn we will also attract major businesses seeking to employ them,” she added.

“An immigration system that attracts skilled people to our country can be part of a virtuous circle benefiting all of society.”

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