Why is there an increase in non-UK university students?

mainly it is all about the money!

The number of university places taken up by non-UK students is increasing much faster than for UK students.

If we go back to the university year ending 2019 and compare this to 2022 we find the following:

  • The number of non-UK student enrolments increased by 37% between 2019 to 2022.
  • The number of UK student enrolments increased by only 11% over the same period.

Overall there were approximately 400 000 more enrolments in 2022 compared to 2019. Around 40% of these went to non-UK students.

Domicile20192022Raw increasePercent increase
Total UK1,960,3202,182,560222,24011.34
Total Non-UK496,110679,970183,86037.06
Non-UK enrolments increasing much faster than UK enrolments.

(Source: HESA stats)

If we put this in a graph we see the increase is faster for non-UK students:

graph showing increase in non UK HE students

If we do a dual axis scale (Non-UK on the right) the faster increase of non-UK students is clearer:

increase in non-UK students dual axis grapht

One quarter of Russel Group University places now go to foreign students. HALF of UCL and LSE places go to foreign students.

The top two countries where non-UK students come from are China, followed by India. Together these account for around 30% of non-UK student enrolments

Around 80% of non-UK students are now from outside the EU, with EU applications and enrolments having fallen since Brexit.

More pain for UK university applicants

If this trend towards universities taking proportionally more non-UK continues it means relatively fewer places for UK students.

It means even more competition in a year when A-level results have gone back down to 2019 levels.

Why are there more foreign students…?

Mainly it is all about the money. UK universities charge higher fees for foreign students. While UK students typically pay around £10 000 per year, the fees for foreign students can be four times that amount for some courses!

This is also a global success story. There is a growing middle class in China and India hence increasing demand for UK university places.

From a neoliberal perspective this is how a global market should work. British universities are some of the best in the world, and in a global free market they are free to sell those services to anyone.

There’s also the fact that universities need the extra income from foreign students to provide a better service. British students will also benefit from this.

And there is nothing stopping British students from applying to universities abroad, either. (Well, other than the fact that most of them can only speak English).

So maybe our default reaction shouldn’t be to whinge about this!?! It is just globalisation as usual, after all!

Having said that, one potential downside to this is that it’s poorer students who are going to lose out the most. As Britain’s best universities become increasingly dominated by a global middle class. It is likely that the poor working class British students are those who wil struggle to secure places!

Sources/ Find out more

The Daily Mail: Middle Class Students Face Losing Out on Places

This material is relevant to the education module within A-level sociology.

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