International student numbers rise at UK universities despite COVID fears

By Nicole Wootton-Cane• Last updated: Nov 1, 2023
International student numbers rise at UK universities despite COVID fears
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University bosses are breathing a sigh of relief as figures show that international students are still flocking to undertake degrees at UK institutions.

The Universities and College admissions service (UCAS) has reported a nine percent increase in undergraduate students from outside the UK and EU starting courses this autumn. The actual number could be higher, as not all international students apply through UCAS. 

UK universities are greatly reliant on the fees of international students, with some institutions reporting over a fifth of their annual income coming from Chinese students alone. 

Previous forecasts suggested that the UK economy would lose at least £460 million from overseas students choosing not to study in the UK due to COVID-19.

However, UCAS said that overall, demand for higher education had “increased” during the pandemic, with 44,300 non-EU international students due to start at UK universities this autumn, and 515,650 total students with a confirmed place. 

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said: “The data clearly tell a very positive story. It was always clear that domestic demand would be up, despite the reduction in 18-year olds, because the alternatives to more education are so poor this year.

“It was also always likely that EU numbers would be down, given the Brexit uncertainties and shenanigans. No one predicted such a big increase in non-EU international students and we have to wait to see if they will all actually arrive and then stay the course.

“But it is a great testament to the underlying strength of our higher education sector, as well as a reflection of the improved migration regime and rising geopolitical tensions between China and the US, that so many people still want to come and study at our fantastic institutions.”

Recent Edvoy poll data has reflected this continued interest in UK higher education, with more students being interested in starting a course online in the UK than in the USA, Canada, or Ireland. 54 percent of students also said they had no concerns or reservations about studying in the UK

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