In the face of increased competition from other nations, UK universities are losing momentum in the hunt for overseas students due to high costs, visa hassles, and insufficient marketing, according to officials.
Universities UK International, the group that represents higher education abroad, found that the UK’s position as the most popular destination after the US was under danger from universities elsewhere doing more to boost applications, according to an analysis.
Universities in Germany, France, and the Netherlands have been among those offering a growing number of English courses at significantly cheaper costs to international students, as well as an increase in foreign students in other countries such as Canada, Russia, China, and Turkey.
More scholarships, lower visa fees, and a more concerted promotion of the value of UK education, as well as stronger measures to help students find work in the country when they finish their studies, were among the recommendations made by the body.
“We need to work hard to recover our position in a range of countries where the UK used to be a first or second-choice destination, but isn’t anymore,” Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International, said.
Her organization’s survey, released on Monday, emphasised that the UK remained appealing, with 8% of the global market, second only to the United States (17%). In 2019-20, the UK welcomed 550,000 international students, compared to the government’s goal of 600,000 by 2030 in its global education policy.
However, according to Unesco’s most recent comparable data, the UK’s market share fell in 16 of the world’s top 21 sending countries and territories between 2017 and 2018, including Nigeria, Pakistan, and India.
The next two most popular destinations, Australia and Germany, saw substantially quicker growth in international students. Tensions with China, the greatest source of international students, have hampered Australia’s progress since then, even ahead of the near-total freeze on international student migration imposed by the coronavirus epidemic in 2020.
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas), which regulates applications, recently revealed figures showing that the number of EU students applying by the June 30 deadline was down 43 percent from the previous year to 28,400, offset by a 14 percent increase in non-EU students to 102,000.
According to Peter William Walsh, a researcher at Oxford University’s Migration Observatory, the trend indicates that the UK has become less appealing to EU students, which is “likely to be driven by the termination of free movement, which imposed higher foreign tuition prices for EU students.”
He explained that the increase in non-EU application spots was part of a longer-term trend that began in 2017, but that it could also be due to post-Brexit visa revisions that allow international students to work for two years after graduation.
Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at Oxford University, said: “The demand for UK international education is very resilient . . . [It] has advantages as the heartland provider of English language higher education that western Europe cannot match.”