British Council Response to HESA Statistics for 2011/12

Thursday 10 January 2013

British Council response to the release today of Higher Education student enrolments and qualifications obtained at Higher Education Institutions in the United Kingdom for the academic year 2011/12

The above National Statistics publication is now available here.

Dr Jo Beall, British Council director of education and society, commented:

“The latest HESA statistics show a significant slowdown in the number of international students enrolling at UK institutions, and this is bad news for the UK’s institutions, British students, and our economy. The sector was expecting a decline in growth, but the actual reduction in Post Graduate numbers is of real concern as international students make up the majority of numbers in many post-graduate courses and research teams in the STEM subjects. Attracting the brightest and most ambitious post-graduate and research students is critical if the UK is to maintain its quality reputation for research and innovation.

"The UK’s overall growth in international student numbers of 4,570 is tiny compared to recent US figures of a growth of 41,000 students over the same period. This suggests that we are beginning to lose out in an incredibly competitive market. Although the UK has attracted 11,000 more Chinese students in 2011/12 than in the previous year, the drop of almost 25%  in the number of students from India, and 13% drop from Pakistan is very alarming indeed. Not only are these countries with large numbers of ambitious students aspiring to study overseas, but they are also countries with which we have historically been actively engaged in the areas of higher education and research.

"Although the UK government has made it clear there is no cap on international students, these statistics for the first time provide real evidence that the changes to UK visa regulations may have dissuaded many students from applying to the UK, and in particular post-graduate students who are so important to the UK’s research output. The UK enjoys an excellent reputation around the world for the high quality of our education system, so the government needs to ensure that institutions have all the support they need to attract international students who make a tremendous academic, cultural and economic contribution to the UK."

Dr Beall added, "a positive sign from the HESA statistics is the growth in the number of students taking UK qualifications outside the UK. This suggests that the sector is succeeding in being able to expand overseas and continue to offer the benefits of a UK education to those unable to come and study here. However, if  UK qualifications are to remain highly sought after internationally,  particularly by post-graduate and research students, it is very disappointing that people who might otherwise have considered study in the UK seem now to be opting for the US, Australia, or other competitor countries.”

Notes to Editor

The British Council's 'Shape of Things to Come' research, published in 2012, identified India as likely to overtake China in sending the most students to the UK by 2020. The HESA statistics therefore suggest that rhetoric in India around UK visa changes, and the curtailing of the post-study work rights has had a particularly adverse effect on the anticipated growth. More key statistics from the report can be accessed here.

To speak to Dr Beall, or for more information, please contact Tim Sowula, Snr Press Officer, on 0207 389 4871 or tim.sowula@britishcouncil.org, or @timsowula

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