Last week has been one full of statistical announcements, first from HESA on the numbers of international students in the UK in 2020-21, and then UCAS publishing the End of Cycle release for 2021.
Despite the waves of the pandemic and the confusion of fees and visa requirements for international students from Brexit, the UK welcomed thousands of international students for higher education. In total, 605,130 international students came to study in the country in 20-21 academic year, a number that surpasses the target set by the UK Government to be reached by 2030. (Higher Education Student Statistics: UK, 2020/21 - Where students come from and go to study | HESA).
HESA also showed that 22% of all students are international, with 16% of that coming from outside the EU. Having almost a quarter of students coming from abroad demonstrates the demand for British education, and UKCISA will be there to support them as they navigate all aspects of arriving and settling in the UK for their studies.
UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admission Service in the UK, also published the last of their End of Cycle data for 2021 (UCAS Undergraduate sector-level end of cycle data resources 2021 | Undergraduate | UCAS). This complemented the HESA statistics, revealing that UK Higher Education has continued to thrive with international students despite the ongoing pandemic. The number of international students applying to these universities through UCAS has nearly tripled over the past few years, with the number of international students, both from within and outside the EU, that get a place at UK universities continue to grow year on year.
However, the number of EU citizens applying for university courses in the UK has dropped significantly to almost half of what it was the year before - attributed largely to the increase in tuition fees for EU students due to Brexit (this data represents 20-21, before the full fees have been introduced, so is likely to drop further in future years). This is in contrast to a 17% rise in applications from non-EU international students, demonstrating that this group of students are behind the continued rise in international student applications. These non-EU students are mostly from China (making up 28% of all non-EU international applications and getting more university places for its students than all of the EU students combined), India (10% of applicants with 8.5% of all non-EU international university places), and America (the largest proportional increase in applicants by 48% from the year before, and 32% increase in places awarded to students).
Having this high a number of international students studying in the UK is a huge achievement for the UK Government reaching its goal early, and for the education sector still drawing in international students despite complications caused by COVID and Brexit. A higher number of international students will however challenge the universities to provide more support for them to acclimatise not only to their new environment but also a new culture.