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UK: shorter PGT recruitment cycle increasing risk

The majority of UK universities are “heavily reliant” on one or two countries when it comes to recruiting postgraduate students, according to a new report from Universities UK International. 

Research shows that India has surpassed China as the top source market for postgraduate studies. Photo: Unsplash.

“Reducing the reliance on a small number of markets is an excellent way to counteract such external shocks”

Research found that half of higher education institutions enlist the majority of their postgraduate students from one country, while 32% primarily recruit from two countries. 

India has surpassed China as the top source market for postgraduate studies, with the percentage of higher education institutions recruiting most of their students from India soaring from 15% to 45% over the past three years. Meanwhile, China dropped from 55% in 2017/18 to 35% in 2020/21. 

But the report, published on September 30, warns that this lack of diversity may turn international students off choosing the UK as they expect to join classes made up of students from multiple countries. 

Data on postgraduate research courses also shows a “worrying growth” in the reliance on a small number of countries, with the proportion of institutions recruiting the majority of their students from more than two countries dropping “significantly”. 

Janet Ilieva, director of Education Insight and author of the report, urged institutions to prioritise diversity. 

“There is a shift towards many HEIs mainly growing their PGT numbers, which means the recruitment cycle is getting shorter,” Ilieva told The PIE News. “This increases the volatility of international recruitment to external shocks, such as influences from the global economy like exchange rate fluctuations, economic growth, unemployment and changes to the post-study work visas. 

“Reducing the reliance on a small number of markets is an excellent way to counteract such external shocks.”

Student diversity remains “relatively balanced” at undergraduate level, but universities experienced a similar drop in demand from China. In 2017/18, China was the top market for 56% of higher education institutions, reducing to to 49% in 2020/21. 

These declines were mainly from students who would typically progress to the UK from offshore courses. 

“We are still to see whether this disruption in the TNE recruitment pipeline is a blip or part of an emerging trend, perhaps related to improving higher education provision in the home country,” Ilieva wrote. 

Ilieva also warned that the reduction in enrolments from EU students following Brexit could jeopardise diversity at undergraduate level. 

“Continuing to attract EU students, even for a limited time, like visiting students and exchanges, will ensure undergraduate students, including home students, are exposed to an internationally diverse classroom,” she said.

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