Record total of foreign students apply to UK universities

Universities in the UK continue to draw a record of 102,000 students from abroad. Both applications from EU and non-EU nations continue to grow significantly in comparison with the previous year.

University graduation ceremony in the UK with students in mortar boards
Record numbers of overseas students are applying to attend British universities in the 2018-19 academic year, according to figures released by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas).

EU and non-EU applications accelerate

By January’s deadline for undergraduate applications, the total from the European Union and non-EU nations topped 100,000 for the first time.This time last year, in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, there was a substantial fall in the number of applications from EU students but, this year, there was a 3.4 per cent increase to 43,510.The rise in applications from outside the EU was even greater: an 11 per cent increase saw a record 58,450 applying for courses starting in September, with the number from India increasing by more than a third and the total from China rising by 20 per cent.
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British university applications drop

It means that, overall, nearly a fifth of those who applied for degree courses at this stage of the year were from outside the UK. At the same time, there was a three per cent fall in the number of British students making applications, resulting in the overall total amounting to 559,030, some 5,000 fewer (0.9 per cent) than the same point in 2017.Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of vice-chancellors’ group Universities UK, said the increase in international applications shows that the UK “remains one of the most attractive destinations in the world” for overseas students”.He added, “It is worth remembering that Ucas undergraduate application figures provide only a partial picture of what is going on in relation to international students. Nearly a half of international (non-EU) students study at postgraduate level, so will not apply via the Ucas undergraduate route. Of those who study at undergraduate level, only around 60 per cent are accepted via the Ucas route.”Mr Jarvis said the small drop in the overall total was largely attributable to the fall in the number of applications from British 18-year-olds. “But the demand for courses from 18-year-olds across the UK remains strong, highlighting the continued demand for university education,” he said.

EU students unaffected by Brexit

The increase in the number of applicants from the EU followed a commitment by the UK government that, despite Brexit, European students starting courses this year would be treated on the same terms as UK students for the duration of their studies.Helen Thorne, director of external relations at Ucas, said, “The UK’s universities are highly popular with EU and international students because of the quality of the teaching and experience they offer.“There are probably several factors influencing the increasing numbers of applicants from the EU and beyond. For example, the weaker pound makes the UK a cost effective place to study and the government’s confirmation that EU students starting courses this autumn will be able to benefit from the existing financial support arrangements will have been beneficial.”Prof Anthony Smith, UCL’s vice-provost for education and student affairs, said he was delighted by the figures. “This year’s applications reaffirm our status as a global university with one of the biggest multinational student bodies in the UK. They show that students from the EU and further abroad continue to want a first-class UK higher education, which bodes well for the future post-Brexit,” he said.Prof Seán Hand, University of Warwick’s deputy pro-vice-chancellor for Europe, added, “Paradoxically, Brexit has focused people’s attention on the strength of British universities. European students appreciate that universities such as Warwick, with strong international connections in research and teaching, would be a place for the best kind of education.”
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