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International and EU students in higher education in the UK FAQs

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This House of Commons briefing paper answers some frequently asked questions about international and EU students in the UK. It sets out statistics in this area and outlines policy issues including the potential impact of Brexit and the net migration target on international and EU student recruitment.

In 2017/18 there were 458,000 overseas students studying at UK universities; 20% of the total student population, 54% of full-time taught postgraduates and 49% of full-time research degree students. 139,000 were from the EU and 319,000 from elsewhere.

New overseas entrants to UK universities peaked at 238,000 in 2011/12 and fell by 10,000 in 2012/13. Since then overseas entrants numbers have remained broadly stable and were 235,000 in 2016/17 – 30% of all first year students at UK universities. 63,000 were from the EU and 172,000 from elsewhere.

The top sending countries for overseas students have changed over the last few years. China currently sends the most students to the UK, more than 76,000 in 2017/18; the number of Chinese student in the UK has risen by 43% since 2011/12. In contrast the number of students from Nigeria has declined significantly; Nigerian student numbers have fallen by 52% since 2011/12. There has also been a more recent decline in numbers from Malaysia and India (despite an increase in 2017/18)..

There has been a general drop in entrants from the major EU countries since 2011/12; Ireland down by 41%, Germany 18%, Greece 16% and France 11%. Italy was the exception with numbers up by more than half.

In recent years, the UK has been the second most popular global destination for international students after the USA. In 2016 the US took 28% of higher education students from all countries who were studying overseas at universities in the OECD, the UK was in second place with 132. But market share has been slipping and other English speaking countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada are now seeing significant increases in overseas students as are European countries which are increasingly offering courses in English.

The decline in numbers has been attributed to a numbers of factors such as changes in student visa arrangements, the net migration target and most recently Brexit. The impact of Brexit on EU students in the UK is uncertain and will depend on the outcome of negotiations, but the Government has guaranteed to continue to fund EU students until 2018/19.

Universities UK has estimated that in 2014-15 international students contributed around £25.8 billion in gross output to the UK economy. International students also benefit the UK in other social, cultural and intellectual ways and are an important contributors to the UK’s ‘soft power’ overseas. Any decline in student numbers is therefore a concern.

This paper answers some frequently asked statistical and policy questions on international and EU students.

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