The global management consultancy recently conducted a survey of 145 education agents in order to find relevant insights about the perspectives for international students in the UK’s higher education institutions.
Following rising geopolitical tensions between the Western world and China due to various reasons, uncertainty lingers over the persistence of China as the UK’s most reliable source market.
The picture, though, appears multifaceted.
While in 2023 Chinese applications have decreased for the first time in over a decade (27,710, which is a 4% decline compared to the previous year), the figure is still higher than pre-pandemic levels (21,250 applications were registered in 2019/20).
The survey also indicated the number of non-EU students enrolled on undergraduate degree programs at British universities has experienced a significant uptick in the last four academic years – increasing from 174,000 in the 2018/2019 academic year to 221,000 in the 2021/2022 intake.
Though reintroducing the graduate route in 2019 may have played a part, the extremely restrictive measures for containing COVID-19 by Australia and New Zealand should also be considered, CIL indicated.
“Although the outlook for the UK remains positive, a potential softening of demand is expected due to competing Anglophone markets rebounding, most notably Australia and New Zealand,” the survey added.
The number of international students willing to enrol in British universities is expected to increase over the next three years – aligning with a survey also recently conducted by INTO – as the reopening of major international transportation routes will see international demand bounce back to pre-pandemic levels.
Apart from the reintroduction of the post-study work visa in 2019, it said there are further key drivers of international demand for British universities such as the prestige and status that British academic institutions still enjoy globally.
28 UK universities were included among the world’s 200 top universities in the latest rankings.
In addition, demand for UK universities is strengthened by attracting students coming from countries where study abroad is extremely popular amid lower-performing university climates, such as China.
“A potential softening of demand is expected due to competing Anglophone markets rebounding”
The UK has also attracted growing numbers of international students from relatively new source markets in recent years; India, Pakistan, Nigeria and even Kuwait have been representing increasingly important source markets for UK universities, the survey found.
The attractiveness of British universities may also be impacted by regulatory changes in visa policy, as governmental discussions about reducing the terms of the graduate route are ongoing.
Meanwhile, Australia is extending its post-study work rights to four years for a limited number of degrees – even with the current tumultuous climate around the visa system.
In light of the heavy reliance on non-EU international students for their annual income – HESA estimates that more than 30% of UK universities’ tuition fees are paid by non-EU international students – any decisions regarding this issue should be carefully examined, the survey indicated.