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India set to become UK’s top overseas student source
6 min read
UK News
students sitting in the garden at University of OxfordUK News

India set to become UK’s top overseas student source

Mar 23, 2022
6 min read
Mar 23, 2022
6 min read

Many UK universities are being advised to maintain a diversified reliance on overseas students, leaving out large dependency on any single nation. 

This thread has come after recent activity in many Indian students flying to the UK. Such figures have crossed that of students coming from China. 

The Home Office, a ministerial department of the Government of the United Kingdom, shows that roughly 100,000 study visas were issued to Indian nationals in 2021.

This recorded almost double the issued visas recorded the year before and only about 20,000 fewer than those granted to Chinese citizens.

Since the Covid pandemic's start, many international education hubs like the UK, Canada, Australia, and the US have seen a significant downfall in enrollment of international students. 

But now, as major global economies open up, many of these nations are receiving multiple record numbers of the international populace enquiring about admissions and visa approvals.

According to the latest data, Indian nationals granted study visas only accounted for 8 percent in 2018. This number rose significantly to 23 percent in 2021. 

Meanwhile, China's share fell from 42 percent to 28 percent between 2019- 2021. Although visas may not directly translate to enrolments, the data points that the UK is on course to smash a goal. 

Such a milestone will be put forward in a report led by former universities minister Lord Johnson of Marylebone for 100,000 students from India studying in the country by 2025.

Official figures show that there were already around 85,000 Indians studying at UK institutions in 2020-21, most of whom would have obtained visas before 2021.

Times Higher Education contacted Lord Johnson on the matters and shared that while he welcomed the rapid growth in demand from India, he sees broad-spectrum diversity of students as a critical industry growth factor. 

"The sector needs to continue to seek to achieve a broad-based diversification in international recruitment".

"There is an obvious danger in simply replacing dependence on China with over-reliance on India," he added.

Post-study work visas, other lucrative policies fueling Indian students' growth

students at the university of Exeter during their orientation day

Many of the lucrative policies recently introduced in the United Kingdom have been a major booster to drive Indian students to the country. 

Experts believe that the reintroduction of post-study work visas was a deliberate UK government strategy to target the Indian market and change student flows because of the pandemic.

"Such factors are likely to have a major effect on the shape of UK higher education too, experts said."

Janet Ilieva, the founder of the international mobility research consultancy Education Insight, shared that much of the growth in global demand for courses was coming from countries like India.

Alleva also mentioned that many of such students were most interested in a one-year master's.

"Continued growth from these countries is likely to shape the UK mainly as a postgraduate study destination," she emphasized while sharing the downfall of Chinese students in the UK.

Breaking news: Imperial College introduces ‘first ever’ degree in economics, finance, and data science.

A fall in the number of new students from China – the number of Chinese entrants to UK universities fell 5 per cent in 2020-21.

Added with it was the slump in European Union demand. Ilieva believes that this will have a significant negative impact on undergraduate enrolments in the UK.

The founder also pointed out that China was the largest source country for PhD students. This has driven many students to pursue in-depth courses in the UK.

Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that in 2020-21 Chinese postgraduate research students at UK universities outnumbered Indian students by about five to one.

"If declines affect the demand from China for doctoral degrees, then STEM areas are likely to suffer the most," Ms Ilieva said.

US-China tensions echoing its effects in the UK

The rising geopolitical tensions between the US and China has been a prominent case in the last few years.

From the US banning several Chinese apps to putting other restrictions on the import of products, the two major economic powers have felt a Cold War vibe last during the US-Soviet Union tensions. 

With such an effect of global sentiment, the two countries have also played the pull-back role in Chinese students pursuing research degrees in the UK. 

Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at the University of Oxford, said that student flows out of China and India and into the UK "have different drivers", and so the "surge" in demand for master's courses from India was "distinct" from the patterns for China and PhDs.

However, he also shared that he still thought the flow of Chinese postgraduate researchers was "likely to trend downwards in the longer term" due to the geopolitical tension in recent years between the US and China "and its echo" in the UK.

Such observations were also backed up by the data from the Home Office, which highlighted the types of universities that are seeing a surge in visa applications.

Source: UK Home Office (Note: Includes visas for main applicants and dependants)

In the past, research-intensive universities like the Russell Group had tended to sponsor a large proportion of visa applications when most were coming from China. 

But in the latest data, non-Russell Group institutions accounted for three-quarters of the increase in Certificates of Acceptance for Study (CAS) being used in applications, compared with 2019.

"If that happens, besides the loss of doctoral and postdoctoral talent from Europe due to Brexit" and the doubts over Horizon Europe participation, "this starts to look like a serious problem".

"Where do the top-drawer doctoral and postdoctoral people come from in future?" Marginson added.         

Professor Marginson also emphasized the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine was likely to have enormous ramifications for geopolitics.

Therefore, he believes that such activities will also imply student and researcher behaviour and activity, "but it is too early to call all the longer-term impacts and knock-on effects".

Uploaded On
August 18, 2023
last updated on
August 18, 2023

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