EU applications to UK higher education down 7% for 2017

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Unofficial reports indicate that the number of EU students applying for university admission in the UK has fallen by nearly 7.5% for the 2017/18 academic year
  • Declining applications volumes are likely to place further downward pressure on EU enrolment in the UK, which fell by 4% from 2011/12 to 2015/16

Earlier this month, higher education delegates to the British Parliament’s Exiting the European Union Committee provided further evidence of declining volumes of admissions applications from EU students.

Speaking to the committee, University College London President Michael Arthur reported on the latest Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) data in the wake of the just-passed 15 January admission deadline for the 2017/18 academic year.

Professor Arthur noted a 5% decline in applications from UK students for the 15 January admissions cycle, and a marginal decrease in non-EU applications (.26%). But he also indicated a nearly 7.5% decrease in EU applications for 2017/18, which, other than a dip in 2012, represents the first drop in EU applications volumes over the past decade – a period which has otherwise been marked by steady and substantial growth in EU student applications to British institutions.

Most recently, and in sharp contrast to the apparent trend for 2017/18, applications from EU students increased by 7.4% between 2014 and 2015 and then again by another 6% from 2015 and 2016.

applications-to-uk-higher-education-from-eu-students-excluding-uk-applicants-2006-2016
Applications to UK higher education from EU students, excluding UK applicants, 2006-2016. Source: The Guardian, UCAS

This echoes a trend we observed late last year when UCAS reported on applications volumes from an earlier admissions cycle for 2017/18. Those numbers indicated a 9% drop in the number of EU students applying for admission to British universities for the coming academic year. That 9% decline was observed for the 15 October admissions deadline, a milestone that applies only for applicants to medical, dentistry, and veterinary degrees, as well as for all programmes at the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford.

That early cycle typically reflects only about 10% of all application volumes for the academic year, with much of the balance processed after the 15 January deadline. And that is the significance of the broader decline reported in committee earlier this month.

Universities UK indicates there are roughly 125,000 EU students enrolled in the UK currently, representing about 5.5% of total higher education enrolment in the country.

A 7.5% decline in applications traffic is not likely to translate directly into a corresponding drop in the number of EU students enrolled in the UK. But that pool of European students has been on the decline in any case, and declining application volumes will not help to reverse the trend. As we noted earlier this month, the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) reports that EU enrolment across the UK fell by 4% between 2011/12 and 2015/16.

The falling EU application volumes for 2017/18 suggest that the trend toward declining EU enrolment will persist for the coming academic year. While not explicitly linked to last year’s Brexit vote, declining numbers of EU students in the UK will no doubt be attributed to Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

The Guardian reports on remarks made at committee by Universities UK Chief Executive Nicola Dandridge, who pointed to the UK’s weakening competitive position: “We are concerned about EU numbers. Bear in mind this is coinciding with our competitor countries, particularly in the EU, seeing this as a huge advantage for them. They are redoubling their marketing efforts and see Brexit as posing a good opportunity for them to recruit internationally mobile EU students.”

In a separate statement earlier this month on falling international student numbers for 2015/16, Ms Dandridge added, “The UK could be doing much better than this. The UK has the potential to be one of the world’s fastest growing destinations for international students, building on its current status as the second most popular destination for international students [after the US]. The UK benefits enormously, economically and academically, from international students.”

“If the UK wants to remain a top destination for international students and academics, it needs a new approach to immigration that is proportionate and welcoming for talented people from across the world. This will be even more important as the UK looks to enhance its place in the world post-Brexit.”

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