Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
31st Jul 2018

Measuring the international competitiveness of British higher education

A new paper commissioned by Universities UK raises some important questions about the international competitiveness of British higher education. In Five Little-known Facts about International Student Mobility to the UK, Education Insight Founder Janet Ilieva argues that, “The global appeal of UK higher education is a national asset,” and that, “Preserving and building on it should be a national priority.” The analysis presented throughout the paper, however, paints a picture of declining competitiveness over the past decade. “International student mobility flows to the UK decelerated significantly in the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008/09,” notes the report. Indeed, and as the following chart reflects, foreign enrolment in British higher education has been essentially flat since 2010/11. Full-time international entrants to UK higher education, 2006/07 – 2015/16. Source: HESA, UUKi From 2010/11 onward, UK universities report greater enrolment growth for non-EU students relative to those arriving from elsewhere in the EU. But that growth pattern sputtered between 2010/11 and 2012/13, mainly as a result of declining Indian numbers, and non-EU enrolment growth has levelled out in the years since. Growth in EU, non-EU, and total international enrolment in UK higher education, 2006/07–2016/17 – where 2006/07 is the baseline value (100). Source: HESA, UUKi Meanwhile, other major study destinations – notably Australia, Canada, and China – have registered much more dramatic growth in foreign enrolment over the same period. Driven in part by continuing strong demand from India, the number of international students in Canada has increased by just under 120% between 2010 and 2017, and by 41% between 2015 and 2017 alone. Australia’s international higher education enrolment grew by 15% between 2016 and 2017. And the number of visiting students in Chinese degree programmes also grew by 15% last year. These observations are reinforced by a recent research paper from the Centre for Global Higher Education at University College London. As the title suggests, The UK in the global student market: second place for how much longer? offers some pointed commentary on the narrowing gap between the UK and competing study destinations. The paper focuses on Australia’s growth in particular, but, as the recent-year statistics we have noted above suggest, the same observations of increasing competitiveness could also be made of China and Canada. The paper’s author, Professor Simon Marginson, comments, “What we are seeing is a seismic shift in the global student market. UK higher education is still highly valued internationally, but the government has held down the growth of international student numbers for five years, by limiting new student numbers and post-study work visas. Meanwhile, competitor nations are strongly promoting their international education.” In Professor Marginson’s analysis, Australia surpassed the UK, in terms of the number of European students it attracted, in 2016. Given the current growth rates of both countries, he projects that foreign enrolment in Australian higher education will exceed that of the UK’s by 2019. “Unless UK policy changes tack, the nation will continue to lose global market share,” he adds. “When the data for 2018 come in, it is possible that Australia will have already passed the UK in total international student numbers (both Europe and rest of world together).”

Building competitiveness

Ms Ilieva closes her paper for Universities UK with a call for greater coordination in international marketing between the country’s higher education institutions and the British government. She adds, “This should include better post study work opportunities, best and more comprehensive promotion of the UK as a study destination; better understanding of the factors affecting demand, particularly at postgraduate level; and a better understanding of the links between [transnational education, or TNE] and onshore recruitment and of the opportunities provided by TNE to diversify the reach of UK higher education in geographical terms.” This recommendation is grounded in a number of important market factors, including the pending impact of Brexit (and any resulting changes in fee status for EU students in the UK), the policy and political climate in the US (including any changes to post-study work rights for international students), and ongoing fluctuations in world currency and commodities markets. In commenting on the report, Universities UK International Director Vivienne Stern said: “International students bring vitality and diversity to our campuses and we hugely value the contribution they make to our institutions. The facts in this report…indicate the need for a government-led international education strategy that can help the sector create an environment that attracts and retains talented international students.” For additional background, please see:

Most Recent

  • The impact of immigration settings, affordability, and job opportunities on international students’ study abroad decisions Read More
  • Hong Kong needs to build more student housing Read More
  • ChatGPT for international education marketing: What is “Prompt Engineering?” Read More

Most Popular

  • Canada’s foreign enrolment grew by more than 30% in 2022 Read More
  • Measuring cost of study and cost of living across study destinations Read More
  • Recruiting in the Emirates: Big goals, world-class education, and new scholarships Read More

Because you found this article interesting

Hong Kong needs to build more student housing In his October 2023 address, Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee set out some ambitious goals for the...
Read more
Canadian immigration minister releases official cap figures and targets for 2024 In many respects, the implementation of Canada’s newly established cap on international student enrolment has been shrouded in...
Read more
Australia: Record-high foreign enrolment but tighter immigration settings now taking hold The Australian government has further increased its scrutiny of international student applicants in an effort to ensure incoming...
Read more
Business school survey again signals declining non-EU enrolment in UK The most recent survey from the Chartered Association of Business Schools in the UK reveals that, “International student...
Read more
US study visa refusals reached record levels in 2023 More than a third of prospective international students applying to study in the US last year were turned...
Read more
Canada: More provincial cap numbers announced; IRCC moves up end date for post-graduate work for partnership programmes Since the Canadian government’s announcement in January that it would be capping the number of new study permits...
Read more
Canada: Ontario’s cap implementation plan allocates nearly all study permit applications to public colleges and universities On 26 February 2024, the Government of Ontario – Canada’s most-populous province and host to just over half of...
Read more
New Zealand’s international enrolment continued to recover in 2023 New Zealand’s international education sector welcomed significantly more students in 2023 than in 2022, according to data released...
Read more
What are you looking for?
Quick Links