Tuesday 24 February 2015

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

The UK’s recent growth in new international enrolments for higher education courses is overshadowed by a continued decline in UK’s market share of new international students, a new report published today by the British Council concludes.

The report analyses the latest HESA data for 2013/14, 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.

International students and researchers make a vital academic and cultural contribution to the UK, and in 2011/12, contributed an estimated £11.2bn to the UK’s economy in tuition fees and living expenses.

The UK’s market share is now at levels last seen in 2008/9, and among the four major host destination countries – Australia, Canada, USA and UK – the proportion of new international students choosing to go to the UK has fallen in each of the last three years.

The report, by 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.

The report suggests that rapid Australian growth could simply be down to the Australian sector beginning to recover from its losses in 2010-12. Enrolment of new international students in Australia is now back to 2009 levels. The report estimates it will take another couple years of double-digit growth before Australia even catches up with the total growth in Canada and the UK since 2004.

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

Notes to Editor

Economic value of international students taken from BIS report 2013: International Education – Global Growth and Prosperity: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/340601/bis-13-1082-international-education-accompanying-analytical-narrative-revised.pdf


 HESA data on international UK enrolments 2009-2013



Academic year

Non EU




First Year

First Year







































Source: HESA Student Record



©British Council


About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We create international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and build trust between them worldwide.

We work in more than 100 countries and our 8,000 staff – including 2,000 teachers – work with thousands of professionals and policy makers and millions of young people every year by teaching English, sharing the arts and delivering education and society programmes.

We are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter. A core publicly-funded grant provides less than 20 per cent of our turnover which last year was £864 million. The rest of our revenues are earned from services which customers around the world pay for, through education and development contracts and from partnerships with public and private organisations. All our work is in pursuit of our charitable purpose and supports prosperity and security for the UK and globally.

For more information, please visit: www.britishcouncil.org. You can also keep in touch with the British Council through http://twitter.com/britishcouncil and http://blog.britishcouncil.org/.