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UK: non-EU undergrad acceptances steady in 2012

Acceptances of non-EU students to UK undergraduate courses remained stable this year, in a further sign that interest in the tertiary sector is yet to be seriously hit by tougher visa policies. According to UCAS’s end of cycle review, there were 34,300 acceptances by September 2012 – a small increase from 34,100 in 2011 and higher than previous cycles except 2010.

"A 1% increase is undoubtedly a cut in market share, and at best a flatlining in terms of numbers"

This follows an 8% decline in 2011, the year the UK began to tighten its student visa policy; applications have also bounced back.

“Applicants from countries outside of the EU increased in 2012 by 4,200 (6.8%), more than reversing the fall they showed in the 2011 cycle,” reported UCAS.

“Applicants from countries outside of the EU increased in 2012 by 4,200 (6.8%)”

Unlike the language and FE sectors, HE has so far avoided extensive collateral damage from policies to weed out student visa abuse, such as tougher English language requirements for visa holders and the abolishment of part-time work rights for those studying at private institutions.

The Home Office revealed this month that despite a 26% fall in Tier 4 student visas issued across all education sectors in the year to September 2012, the HE sector (including post and under-graduate levels) saw a 1% rise to 155,821, suggesting other sectors are bearing the brunt.

The UK Council of International Student Affairs, however, argues that the figures are misleading.

“While the government may claim that the HE sector is unaffected using the figure of a 1% increase in visa applications , in the context of the global demand for international study, a 1% increase is undoubtedly a cut in market share, and at best a flatlining in terms of numbers,” said Beatrice Merrick, director of services and research, in a blog last week.

She added that huge falls in applications for Tier 4 visas to study at language schools (down 76%), FE colleges (67%) and to a lesser extent independent schools (17%) – all of which feed universities – would hit tertiary numbers next year (although a hike in student visitor visas has offset this to a degree).

Other factors likely to have impact include fallout from the London Metropolitan University saga and new plans to interview more than 100,000 visa applicants from high risk countries staring next April.

The UCAS figures also show undergraduate growth is slowing, as the proportion of non-EU applicants who have a place at the end of the application cycle fell again in 2012. “This follows a similar fall in 2011 and means that non-EU applicants were over 10% less likely to be placed than was typical across the 2004 to 2010 cycles,” UCAS reported.

In another worrying trend, UCAS says that acceptances from other parts of the European Union have continued to slide, down from 26,700 to 23,200 (13%) this year – the lowest total recorded since 2008 – likely due to the rise in the fees cap to £9,000 this year.

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