International Student Enrollment Trends at British Universities and Brexit

international students in UK

New international student enrollment at British higher education registered an increase despite the Brexit concerns and uncertainties. Data from HESA for 2017/18 indicates that non-EU first year student numbers grew by 13,140 (8%) between 2016/17 and 2017/18. Are non-EU students relatively immune to Brexit turmoil?

There were 12,465 newly-enrolled Indian students in 2017/18, up from 9,720 in the previous year. This is a marked reversal for India which had been facing consistent decline since 2012. With a total of 19,750 students, India is the second largest non-EU source market after China.

I was quoted in The PIE News on trends with Indian and Chinese students. “India’s reversal… suggests the pent-up demand is finally finding its way to the UK, [but] sustainability of this growth hinges on doubling-down on outreach and delivering on experiences that support career advancement.”

“Continued growth in China and reversal of trends with India reflect that aspirations to study in the UK remain strong. However, the students who are successfully able to translate those aspirations into reality are the ones who are relatively less sensitive to cost and immigration challenges.”

UUKi director Vivienne Stern emphasized that while the numbers are looking better, it is important to address Brexit concerns among international students.

Transnational education (TNE) or cross-border education is seen as a way to overcome immigration barriers and meet the demand in emerging countries. However, in 2017/18 transnational students studying wholly overseas for UK higher education qualifications were down 3% as compared to 2016/17. Over the longer term of five years, TNE enrollment increased from 561,505 in 2013/14 to 612,715 in 2017/18. In specific, total students registered at a UK Higher Education provider outside the European Union has been growing at a consistent rate. It increased from 215,930 2013/14 to 255,925 in 2017/18. Much of the growth was driven by “overseas campus” and “other (collaborative) arrangement.” “Distance, flexible or distributed learning” declined slightly over the five years.

Would British universities be able to maintain the growth momentum of international students coming to the UK? What would it take to accelerate TNE enrollment?