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UK universities suffer first fall in foreign students since records began

Evidence of the impact on higher education of ambiguous signals from a British government determined to cut net immigration has emerged in the form of the first recorded decline in enrolment of international students from outside the European Union.

First year international student enrolments at all UK higher education institutions fell by 1% in the 2012-13 academic year, with the heaviest declines in student numbers from India and Pakistan.

It is the first time that non-EU international student enrolments have fallen since the Higher Education Statistics Agency started collating the figures in 1994-95, and represents a body blow to the finances of many UK universities.

UK institutions are reeling from a steep decline in home and EU students – down by 18% and 20% respectively at undergraduate level – and were looking to the international market to boost revenue.

A decline was predicted by the university sector and other critics of the coalition government’s immigration restrictions, which included students despite repeated calls for their exclusion because of the damage it would do to the UK’s multi-million pound higher education export business.

While the focus of the restrictions has been on students wishing to study at sub-degree level, critics have warned that the impression has been created that UK universities are not open for business.

In particular there is anger that the removal of the right to work for two years after graduation will deter the best students. A similar fall among Indian students in 2011 was blamed additionally on the decline of the rupee against sterling.

The number of students enrolling for the first time from India fell by 25% in 2012-13 compared with the previous year, from 16,335 to 12,280. The decline in numbers from Pakistan was 17%.

Overall non-EU enrolment of overseas students dropped from 173,560 to 171,910.

The number of students from China, who comprise the largest single group of international students at UK universities, was up 6% at 56,535.

Domestic enrolments also fared badly, with a 4% fall in postgraduate numbers and an 18% drop in undergraduates enrolling for the first time from the UK. It appears, though, that this was an exceptional fall.

Ministers say that the figures are skewed because students took up places in 2011-12 to avoid the up to £9,000 (US$14,900) a year fees for English universities imposed in 2012-13, and that applications for the 2013-14 academic year are up. Figures from the admissions service UCAS show a 7.1% increase for English universities.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, the representative body for the sector, said: “It is excellent to see that 2013 has seen the highest ever number of students accepted into higher education, following the dip in demand in 2012.

“This year there was not only a 6.6% increase on 2012 but also a 0.7% increase on 2011.”
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