Overseas student numbers are dropping, Education Select Committee told

There are 41,000 fewer non-EU international students in the United Kingdom this year than last, according to figures released by the Office for National Statistics, who called the drop a ‘statistically significant decrease’.

The UK’s international students come mostly from China, India, and the United States, and the decline was mostly among students coming from Asia.

However, the ONS also remarked on the difficulty of obtaining accurate data, noting differences between the number of visas applied for and the number of arrivals.

There has also been a 14% drop in EU applications to the University of Cambridge, according to Prof Catherine Barnard, who suggested that there is a perception of ‘anti-immigrant sentiment’.

In a special away-day session of the Education Select Committee at the University of Oxford, universities outlined their issues to the government. They suggested that EU and non-EU international students and staff would be enticed to overseas institutions in China and Germany – undermining the elite status of UK universities.

Staffing Issues

Universities have consistently warned that Brexit would make recruiting international academics more difficult, and the sector’s susceptibility to uncertainty is reflected in the data. Non-UK academics represent 29% of all academic staff, and that number increases to 42% for engineering and technology faculties.

London, with its highly international student body, will be particularly hit by any reductions in international student intake and visa uncertainty.

The Committee was also told that in some research bodies EU nationals make up two thirds of staff. Losing them would undermine institutions vital to the national infrastructure.

Higher Education’s peak UK body, Universities UK, has been campaigning to have international students removed from any immigrations quotas. Universities themselves have cautioned that lower numbers will be felt keenly from a financial perspective, as international students typically pay double that of their local class-mates.

One counterargument, however, suggests that EU students, who usually pay the same amount as local students, will start paying international fees, thus increasing university revenues. This is dependent on those students not deciding, based on the new cost, to go elsewhere.

EU Funding

UK universities are some of the biggest recipients of EU research funding. The Horizon 2020 research network has injected more than £2 billion into the tertiary sector. The concern here is obvious. Dr Anne Corbett from the LSE explained that the government would have to make up the shortfall if the UK wanted to remain its edge in research.

In an industry which thrives on certainty and forward planning, the takeaway from the day was clear: Brexit will undermine the UK’s higher education sector.


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