Thursday 08 February 2024

Inbound student mobility to the UK is on course to decline for the first time since before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Challenges including changes to migration policy and increasing costs of UK study will mark the end of the post-Covid boom in international student mobility, a new British Council report has found.

Growth in issuance of UK study visas dropped to nearly zero by the third quarter of 2023, researchers found. This is after international enrolments previously surpassed pre-pandemic levels in all four major English-speaking host destination countries: UK, the United States, Australia and Canada.

The UK is at the leading edge of this trend. Issuance of UK study visas returned to pre-pandemic levels by the third quarter of 2021, earlier than any other major host destination country.

The report also highlights that a strong pound in 2024 could put the cost of UK education out of reach for some international students.

This will be felt most acutely in some of the UK’s largest student markets: Nigeria, Turkey, Pakistan and Ghana, many of which are emerging economies. Even in the developed markets of East Asia: Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan, local currencies depreciated significantly against the pound in 2023.

The re-emergence of the US education market also presents increased competition for UK higher education institutions. Issuance of US student visas is higher than at any point since 2016. The US issued 22.5 per cent more student visas in 2023 than in 2019. Early data suggests that this figure is likely to increase again as the US increases its share of international student enrolments in 2024.

Despite this, international student recruitment in the UK remains strong. The UK is second only to the US in terms of numbers. Some 11 per cent of all inbound international students chose to study in the UK in 2023, ahead of comparable English speaking countries Canada (10 per cent) and Australia (6 per cent).   

Amid this downturn, researchers found that East Asia appears relatively well positioned for growth in 2024. China will remain the world’s most important market for outbound student mobility, but UK institutions will be under pressure to communicate more proactively to students in China about graduate routes and career service offerings of their individual institutions.

Demand for overseas study remains reasonably strong in China due to internal push factors, while growth in issuance of UK study visas was higher in East Asia than in any other region in the first three quarters of 2023.

The report outlined that 2024 is expected to be a transitional year for UK HEIs, as they adjust to slower growth rates and rising competition.

Researchers studied year-on-year changes in UK study visa issuance, UK share of international students, changes in GBP exchange rates in UK’s largest student markets, and US study visa data.

Maddalaine Ansell, Director Education at the British Council said: “UK education undoubtedly remains well positioned for long-term success due to its strong foundations and a reputation for world-class quality. The British Council will continue to engage with the UK higher education sector, students, agents and influencers worldwide to ensure the UK continues to recruit highly qualified international students from across the globe and enables the exchange of learning and ideas and the formation of partnerships that benefit individuals, institutions and wider society.

Notes to Editor

To read the full report, follow this link: Five trends on international student mobility for 2024.

For more information, please contact Andrew Moffat, Senior Media and External Communications Manager:

About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We support peace and prosperity by building connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and countries worldwide. We do this through our work in arts and culture, education and the English language.  We work with people in over 200 countries and territories and are on the ground in more than 100 countries. In 2022-23 we reached 600 million people.