Most notably, the number of students from India, the UK’s second largest contributor of overseas students, dropped by a quarter for the second year running.
“Doubtless the decreases for India and Pakistan are still down, mainly, to the abolition of the Post Study Work scheme”
Hong Kong posted the largest growth in enrolments, year on year, with a 15% growth, while the UK continued to see the effects of the market boom in China, which remains the UK’s biggest international student market, up 6% year on year.
Meanwhile, the number of EU students remained stagnant, at 5%.
Industry commentators were quick to point out that this is the first statistical confirmation that current visa policy is eroding the UK’s market share in international education.
Daniel Stevens, NUS International Students Officer, observed that the UK faces “a serious wake up call after four years of consistently negative policies towards international students”.
He noted that when figures from China and Hong Kong are excluded from the data, the new HESA figures represent an actual decrease of 4.5% in non-EU enrolments.
Dominic Scott, CEO of the UK Council for International Student Affairs, said that the UK’s continued popularity among Chinese students was “excellent news”, but noted concerns over an over-reliance on one market.
Scott told The PIE News: “Doubtless the decreases for India (and indeed Pakistan) are still down, mainly, to the abolition of the Post Study Work scheme as so many Indians, many of whom took commercial loans to cover the cost of their studies, were put off when it became impossible to earn in the UK post-graduation.”
“We may also be continuing to see the effect, at least on perceptions if nothing else, of HE students in private colleges no longer having part-time work entitlements,” he added.
Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, noted that competitor countries have seen rises in international student numbers, and said that the decline in the number of students enrolled in taught postgraduate degrees was a particular cause for concern.
The decline in the number of students enrolled in taught postgraduate degrees was a particular cause for concern
She added that in order to see growth, the UK “must present a welcoming climate for genuine international students and ensure that visa and immigration rules are consistent and properly communicated”.
However, both Scott and Dandridge spoke positively about efforts to tackle falling international student numbers.
“There are some positive developments, with the publication of the UK government’s international education strategy and the British Council’s prediction that the UK could attract an extra 126,000 international students over the next decade,” said Dandridge, adding that last year’s trade mission to India was “significant”.
Scott added that although the UK “has some catching up to do”, a video produced by the University of Sheffield and the British Council aimed at Indian students applying to the UK “may help to de-mystify the visa application process”.
A Department of Business, Industry and Skills spokesperson said: “Early indicators of growth in the number of international applicants in the 2013/14 student recruitment cycle suggest that our HE institutions are responding to global competition.”
They added that the government published its international education strategy to support UK growth in July 2013.
And the HESA stats did show some positive results, such as a 5% growth in students studying UK qualifications outside the UK; cementing some observations that UK growth can be better achieved via transnational education.
The greatest number of EU students came from Germany, followed by Ireland, though both countries have seen a decrease in share
Professor Rebecca Hughes, the British Council’s Director of International Higher Education, said that this growth “demonstrates the strength of the UK’s world class reputation”.
In terms of UK-based enrolments, however, Wales had the highest proportion of non-EU domiciled students, at 15%, while institutions in Scotland had the greatest proportion of other EU domiciled students, at 9%.
A spokesperson for Higher Education Wales said: “The latest HESA figures are encouraging for Wales, as our universities continue to be an attractive destination for international students by offering a vibrant student experience.”
“Despite the current challenging climate in attracting international students to the UK, Welsh universities are successfully engaging in a number of initiatives with overseas partners to communicate the benefits of a higher education experience in Wales,” he added.
The greatest number of EU students came from Germany, followed by Ireland, though both countries have seen a decrease in share – a 9% drop in numbers from Germany and 16% decrease from Ireland since 2011/12.