Students from India and Pakistan shun UK universities

UK universities recorded a significant drop in the number of students from India and Pakistan for the first time last year.

The numbers of students from India fell by a whopping 23.5% compared to 2010-11 and from Pakistan by 13.4%, the official Higher Education Statistics Agency, or HESA, reported. There were almost 10,000 fewer Indian students in the UK in 2011-12 compared to the previous year.

India has been the second largest recruiting ground for UK universities, after China. The number of Chinese students continued to increase, up by almost 17% over the same period to 78,715.

The total number of non-European students also continued to rise – by 2% for both postgraduate and undergraduate students, and part-time and full-time studies.

But the figures cover several years of recruitment and the key test is for first-year enrolments. These reveal zero growth for non-EU recruitment, despite the apparent buoyancy of demand from China.

And while undergraduate recruitment from outside the European Union grew by 3% for full-time undergraduate courses, it fell by 1% for full-time postgraduate study. Just under half of all non-UK students were studying for postgraduate qualifications, comprising more than a third of all postgraduates at UK universities in 2011-12.

For both postgraduate and undergraduate study, there were big falls in the number of students from Ireland (10.5%) and Poland (14.1%) but proportionately large increases with regard to those from Romania (27.9%) and Bulgaria (23.7%) resulting in a 1.9% overall increase.

The HESA figures straddle the government-inspired clampdown on bogus student visas and predate the furore over the UK Border Agency’s tough action over alleged abuses at London Metropolitan University, which sent shock waves through the sector.

All eyes will now be focused on application data due later this month from the universities admissions body, UCAS, which will demonstrate the true impact of the government’s actions.

The application deadline is 15 January and the data will not be available immediately, but universities have been bracing themselves for bad news.

Early figures have suggested a fall in applications from home students with clear implications for fee income under the new system, and universities have few options open to them if there is a collapse in traditional international markets.