This article is more than 7 years old

International challenge: tough times ahead for UK HE

A new report sets out how bad things have become for UK universities looking to recruit international students. And it's going to get worse.
This article is more than 7 years old

Paul Greatrix is Registrar at The University of Nottingham, author and creator of Registrarism and a Contributing Editor of Wonkhe.

In what has been a rollercoaster period for higher education some more information about just how difficult one aspect of universities’ activity has become. It’s bad news for universities. Even worse for the UK economy. Our country’s approach to welcoming international students has been less than helpful for HE and it’s about to get a whole lot more challenging.


A new report from Exporting Education UK estimates that the decline in international students arriving in the country since 2011/12 has already cost the UK £1.1 billion. Not only this, it is expected that there will be a further £8 billion in opportunity cost by 2016/17. It makes grim reading:

The report, which provides the first comprehensive account of the impact of the UK’s student visa policies on the international education sector, offers seven recommendations to government to reverse the decline and secure the significant economic contribution which international students bring to the UK – including supporting over 200,000 local jobs. In the context of the recent ‘Brexit’ vote, the report’s recommendation that the UK moves swiftly to reassure current and prospective international students that they have a welcome and stable place in the country becomes even more crucial.

The France and UK,World Each Nation National flag

It would be great if this kind of reassurance were forthcoming. Unfortunately, the opposite seems to be happening. The only messages going out could not be much less welcoming at the moment. This at a time when other countries are growing well:

The report ‘Supporting international education in the UK’ shows that globally the international education market is demonstrating strong growth of 8% per year. However, the UK is failing adequately to capitalise on this growing market, even in areas where it is currently leading, such as pathway programmes, school education and English language provision. Growth areas in international recruitment, such as below-degree pathways and vocational training, are among those hardest hit by the UK’s recent immigration policies. The report concludes that it is essential that the UK develops a strong, consistent and clear ‘offer’ to international students in order to achieve government ambitions to increase education exports to £30 billion by 2020.

The prospect of any of the positive recommendations in the report being implemented and a strong, consistent and clear offer look increasingly remote by the day. And yet, universities have to continue to work hard to sustain EU and international student (and staff) recruitment. That work just got a lot harder thanks to the EU referendum vote but the last thing we can afford to do is to allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by this. Bucket loads of optimism, despite everything, is required.

Leave a Reply