Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
30th Aug 2023

UK: Student visa grants now double pre-pandemic levels; ELT weeks recover to 81% of 2019 volumes

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • The UK granted just under 500,000 study visas for the year ending June 2023
  • Indian student numbers are driving much of that growth and grants to Indian students now account for nearly 30% of total study visas issued
  • ELT numbers continue to come back as well with 25% growth in student weeks for Q2 2023, compared to the same period last year

Following on from the promising UCAS updates on 2023/24 international application volumes, the latest data release from the UK Home Office tells a story of surging student visa numbers for this year.

The Home Office reports just under 500,000 study visas grants for the year ending June 2023. This represents a 23% year-over-year increase and more than double (108%) the number of visas granted for the year ending June 2019.

Study visas granted to main applicants between year ending June 2014 and year ending June 2023. Source: UK Home Office

"Changes in visa numbers over recent years will reflect a range of factors including policy changes and the changes in travel patterns following the COVID-19 pandemic, so comparisons should be treated with some caution," notes the Home Office release. In other words, part of that growth can be attributed to a post-COVID surge that may normalise in the years to come. But even so, there are some fascinating trends to observe in the surging numbers for 2023.

First and foremost, nearly 143,000 of those visas -- about 29% of the total volume – were granted to Indian students. That marks a year-over-year increase of 54% for Indian students alone, and puts India as the clear leading sender for the UK – a position it assumed about a year ago when it surpassed the historical leader, China, for the first time. In contrast, visa grants to Chinese students have been declining over the last two years. Among the leading source markets for the UK, Nigeria was the other notable gainer this year, with 73% growth over 2022.

Study visas granted for students from top five sending markets, year ending June 2018 to year ending June 2023. Source: UK Home Office

The proportion of EU students in the UK's foreign enrolment base continues to decline this year. The total number of visas granted to EEA and Swiss students declined (very) marginally to 23,912 for the year ending June 2023.

Another solid quarter for UK ELT

The latest quarterly report from English UK is another bright spot as the peak body reports a total of 135,000 students weeks for the second quarter of 2023. This represents 25% year-over-year growth for the same quarter in 2022; with a mix of 83% adult and 17% junior learners.

Those numbers bring the sector to 81% of pre-pandemic volumes for the quarter and set the stage for continued recovery in the peak summer season.

"Recovery in the second quarter of this year was solid," adds English UK. "The full results reveal many individual source countries (just under half) sent higher volumes than in Q2 2019 - an indication of promising short-term growth potential across a number of the UK's markets."

Compared to the QI results, we also see a slight change in the mix for the top sending markets in Q2, and especially so with stronger numbers from the key Latin Markets of Brazil and Colombia.

Student weeks by age group and source country for top 10 sending markets. Source: English UK

For additional background, please see:

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