Non-EU student numbers hit record despite pandemic

Fears that the Covid-19 pandemic would lead to a dramatic drop in the number of international students enrolling in the UK this year have proved to be unfounded, according to figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

In fact, there has been a record nine per cent rise - to 44,300 - in the total of non-EU students enrolling through UCAS. This figure historically represents less than half the actual total, with many overseas students applying directly to individual universities.The unexpected rise is being attributed not only to a drive by UK institutions to recruit overseas, but the fact haphazard pandemic controls have made the US less attractive, while border closures have been put in place in Australia and New Zealand.As in previous years, the majority of international students applying through UCAS come from China (12,980) and India (3,150). However, UCAS also recorded a two per cent fall in the number of enrolments from the EU, which is thought to reflect uncertainties over Brexit.Clare Marchant, UCAS chief executive, said: “I admire students for their adaptability and resilience in recent months, which will put them in a strong position to thrive on their courses and benefit from the world-class education they’ll receive through a variety of innovative methods this year."Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International, said plans on how to cater for overseas students had been developed since the pandemic first arrived in the UK.“We had students on campus during the first lockdown earlier this year and our universities never closed - there were always students on campus and international students, in particular, still living in halls,” she said.“Universities became very good at making sure things like access to food if you can’t go out to shop because you’re isolating, access to healthcare if you fall ill and all of the arrangements are in place so that people don’t have to travel long distances.”Bobby Mehta, director of the University of Portsmouth’s Global Engagement Strategy, said a variety of measures were in place to offer students opportunities to socialise and to catch up on course work they may have to miss due to travel schedules or quarantine restrictions.“We have some classes which are face-to-face, and then we’re doing breakout networking sessions online, and we’re doing an on-demand service as well,” he said during a webinar earlier this month.“So whatever you miss in terms of the online [work] – if you happen to miss a session because you’re on your way to campus, travelling by plane or whatever – you get it on video, on-demand, to watch at your own leisure.“And we recognise that students will have different experiences based on their individual circumstances where they are: some will be travelling to the UK, some will be in isolation once they get here, for a couple of weeks.”The UCAS figures also showed that, after three years of decreases, accepted applicants from the UK rose by four per cent to 441,720.

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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