UK losing competitive edge for new international students

24 February 2015

The UK’s slow growth in international students hides global underperformance, new analysis warns.

A report published today by British Council shows that the UK’s recent growth in new international higher education enrolments is overshadowed by a continued decline in UK’s market share of new international students.

The report analyses the latest HESA data against new Home Office data on student visa issuances, and concludes that the UK’s ‘market share’ of international students will continue to decline in 2014/15 against increasing dominance from the USA and other host destination countries such as Australia and Canada.

The report author, Jeremy Chan, the British Council’s Head of Research and Consultancy in East Asia, suggests that “It is possible that perhaps the UK higher education sector overheated from 2009-11, in which case the recent three year decline in market share is a course correction rather than a sign of lagging competitiveness.”

However, “It is the U.S. higher education sector which has outpaced all other major markets by a considerable margin since 2009, and the U.S. represents the greatest source of competition for the U.K. sector over the long term. This is doubly true as the U.S. now enrols nearly as many international students in higher education every year as the U.K. does even with E.U. students included, and undergraduate and postgraduate students generally enrol there for periods lasting at least one year longer than their counterparts in the U.K..” Mr Chan warns in the report.

In 2011/12, as new international enrolments in UK higher education fell, the overall growth in new international enrolments also dropped to almost zero; but in 2012/13, only the U.K. sector declined while the other three major markets recorded relatively strong growth. According to the report, “this suggests that some internal shock explains the weakening competitiveness of the UK’s offer in 2012/13, rather than an external drop in demand for international education.”

“That the UK higher education sector returned to growth in 2013/14 is therefore cause for cautious optimism, but it remains unclear whether this growth was a result of favourable policy changes in the UK offer or simply the result of a rising tide lifting all boats.” Mr Chan concludes.

The report is available via: http://www.britishcouncil.org/education/ihe/knowledge-centre/student-mobility/report-international-student-mobility-numbers 

 

HESA data on international UK enrolments 2009-2013

 

  Non EU EU Total  
Academic year First year First year Total
Total  1,097,110 463,190 1,560,305
2008/09 155,890 74,420 230,310
2009/10 175,365 79,950 255,315
2010/11 188,740 81,840 270,580
2011/12 189,120 81,175 270,295
2012/13 188,630 72,340 260,970
2013/14 199,360 73,475 272,835