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UK loses half of enrolments from India as tougher visa rules bite

UK universities have lost half of their overseas student enrolments from India and 38 per cent from Pakistan since the tightening of visa conditions and work study permits in 2011, new figures reveal.

The drop contributed to an overall 1 per cent fall in admissions of overseas students from outside the European Union in 2012-13 – the first such decline on record, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

The number of students from India enrolling on postgraduate courses in Britain fell from 18,765 in 2010-11 to 12,405 in 2011-12 and 8,985 in 2012-13 - a fall of 52 per cent, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency. There was also a 37 per cent drop in undergraduate takes from India, down from 5,220 in 2010-11 to 3,935 in 2011-12 and 3,295 in 2012-13. 

Taken together, it amounts to a 49 per cent fall in admissions of students from India.

There was also a 47 per cent drop in postgraduate admissions and a 17 per cent fall in undergraduate intakes from Pakistan. In total, this amounted to a 38 per cent decline in the number of Pakistani students coming to study in the UK.

The news emerged as the House of Lords science and technology committee announced it was launching an inquiry into whether immigration rules are starving universities of talent. It will look at visa arrangements for non-EU students and the route into work after study with a focus on science, technology and maths (STEM) subjects.

India is the UK’s second largest provider of overseas higher education students after China and a key market for the UK.  A  report by the British Council last autumn forecast that India would become even more important as the number of outbound Chinese students declined in the period to 2024.

The report, The future of the world’s mobile students to 2024  predicted the number of outbound Chinese students would drop due both to a falling 18-22 year old population and the expansion of China’s domestic higher education system.

Dominic Scott, the chief executive of UKCISA, the UK Council for International Student Affairs, said the HESA figures showed the continued impact of various visa changes and especially the abolition of the Post Study Work scheme, especially on postgraduates.

“Given this downturn over the last two years, universities have been working particularly hard to convince students in India and Pakistan that the UK is still the right place for them. But clearly there is much 'market' and 'trust' to recover,” he said.

The HESA report shows an overall drop of 6 per cent in student numbers between 2011-12 and 2012-13 with the number of first year undergraduate students falling by 17 per cent. The number of non-EU domiciled students fell by one per cent, the total boosted by a 6 per cent increase from China.

Indian students are nearly three times more likely to join post-graduate than undergraduate courses and provide an important source of revenue and expertise to UK university departments, particularly in science and engineering.

Professor Rebecca Hughes, the British Council’s Director of International Higher Education, said the UK would have to continue to work hard to explore new opportunities for international expansion.

She added: “ As a proportion of the UK’s total student body, international (non-EU) students actually grew slightly between 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, showing that international students are increasingly important to our higher education sector.

“It is of course a concern that the numbers of new Indian and Pakistani students coming to the UK have dropped. A survey of over 10,000 Indian students we ran in November 2013 found that the UK was the most popular destination for Indian students, but there are multiple factors that influence decision-making.

“Quality of education and then cost of study and living are currently the most significant factor for Indians considering whether to study abroad. The number of potential students from those countries is set to grow over the next decade, so it’s vital that the right conditions can be established that allow the most ambitious students to benefit from a UK education. The British Council is working with the government and institutions towards that.”