Third of non-EU university students in UK come from China | Education
The number of students from China at British universities increased again last year, with the latest figures showing that recruitment of Chinese students outstripped those from other countries.
The Higher Education Statistics Agency’s breakdown of students in UK higher education last year showed that the number of students from China rose above 120,000 for the first time, accounting for more than one in every three non-EU students.
While the number of new students coming from EU countries rose by 2% – despite the political turmoil over Brexit – the numbers from outside the EU rose by 10%, with those from China alone rising by 13%.
The figures underline the sector’s reliance on tuition income from overseas students. Since 2014-15 the number of Chinese students enrolled in the UK has risen from about 89,500 to more than 120,300. Students from India increased from about 18,300 to more than 26,600 in the same period, while Italy, France and Germany each sent more than 13,000 students to the UK in 2018-19.
For some of England’s most prestigious institutions, international students have fuelled their expansion. The London School of Economics now has more full-time undergraduates from outside the UK than from inside: 2,380 from the UK, including just 15 from Scotland, and 2,630 from international and EU countries. At University College London (UCL) and Imperial College, undergraduates from the UK make up only a little more than half of the total enrolled.
Chris Skidmore, the universities minister for England, said the figures showed that the country’s institutions were able to attract students in a competitive international market.
“I am delighted to see a continued increase in both EU and non-EU students, and we want to grow the number of international students to 600,000 by 2030,” Skidmore said.
“Our universities thrive on being open, global institutions, which is why we’re allowing international students to remain in the UK for two-years post-graduation.”
Non-UK students now account for more than 485,000 of the 2.38 million higher education students at UK universities.
The figures also showed that the increase in students awarded top degree classes has come to a halt, following several years of rapid growth at some institutions that raised concerns among policymakers.
The HESA statistics found that universities awarded first-class degrees to 28% of graduates in 2019, a figure little changed from 2018. In 2015, universities awarded first-class honours to 22% of graduates. Last year, a further 48% received upper second-class (2:1) classifications, down from 50% in 2015.
But Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, said universities needed to remain vigilant that they were not succumbing to grade inflation that would harm their international reputation.
“It’s something that we’ve had countless conversations about, both with the sector but also with the Office for Students. We are going to reverse that trend. We are not going to tolerate that continuous drift of grade inflation,” Williamson said.
Kirsty Williams, the education minister for Wales, applauded the rise in the number of students from Wales in higher education following her government’s overhaul of student support. “I’m particularly pleased with the increase in postgraduates, by more than 1,500, which play an important role in supplying talented researchers and innovators to help grow our economy,” Williams said.
The figures also reveal that UCL has finally overtaken the University of Manchester as the UK’s largest mainstream higher education provider, with more than 41,000 students enrolled on degree courses, compared to Manchester’s 40,000.
The University of Leeds overtook Birmingham to become the third-largest mainstream provider, while the Open University remains the largest provider of higher education overall, with more than 122,000 students.
The figures also showed increasing numbers taking part-time degrees. Although the overall increase was less than 1%, it is the first time numbers have improved since 2009-10. Part-time study has been particularly weakened since the hiking of undergraduate tuition fees in England in 2012.