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UK Set to attract another 126,000 overseas students, report predicts

The UK will be one of the world’s fastest growing destinations for international students over the next decade, according to a new report from the British Council.

Despite challenging economic conditions, squeezed household incomes and the tightening of immigration rules in some countries, a British Council study forecasts significant growth in the global mobile student market in the years to 2024.

The number of students travelling abroad for higher education is forecast to rise from 3.04 million in 2011 to 3.85 million in 2024, says a report on the findings, The Future of the World’s Mobile Students to 2024.

“The international component of global higher education is fast-growing and represents a lucrative export market for host countries across the world,” it says.

The UK will retain its position as the world’s second most popular study destination after the US, attracting an extra 126,000 international students between 2011 and 2024, predicts the report from the British Council’s Education Intelligence Service.

Between 2009 and 2011 the number of students choosing to study abroad exceeded expectations with numbers accelerating to outpace world GDP growth, the report says.  Looking further ahead, the US, UK and Australia are likely to continue as the dominant host countries, while Germany is forecast to become the third largest sender of higher education students after China and India.

However, the report notes that China is seeking to expand as a host nation, with a target of educating 500,000 international students by 2015.

“China will be competing with the US, UK and Australia as one of the world’s leading destinations,” it says.

China and India are expected to continue to make up over one third of outbound mobile tertiary students in 2024, though the number of international students from India will grow at a faster pace than China’s over the decade.

The countries sending the most students abroad in 2024 are forecast to be China (855,000) followed by India (376,000), Germany (139,000), South Korea (125,000), Saudi Arabia (115,000), Nigeria (113,000), Turkey (109,000), Pakistan (95,000), France (94,000) and Kazakhstan (80,000).

Australia is forecast to fall quite a distance behind the US and UK in terms of growth as a host nation due to the high cost of living, strong Australian dollar and recent changes to student visa rules.

Elizabeth Shepherd, the British Council’s Research Director and author of the report, said: “Mobile higher education students are set to remain an attractive market for host countries across the world, with continued strong growth forecast over the next decade. Against a backdrop of fragile economic conditions and recoveries, slowing international trade generally, squeezed household incomes and a global decline in the number of people aged 18-22, this growth is impressive.”

Commenting on the report’s conclusions, Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: ““Increasing the number of international students coming to the UK could bring enormous benefits to economies in all corners of the UK. Income from universities' international activities is projected to grow considerably in the coming years, while other sectors of the economy are contracting. This is not only about economic benefits. International students, researchers and staff also make an enormous contribution to the academic and cultural life of the UK.
“Competition from other countries for international students is fierce. The challenge will be to make sure that the UK's student visa rules are properly understood internationally and that genuine international students do not become caught up in efforts to bear down on immigration. The UK must also continue to invest in higher education if we are to maintain this global competitiveness.”

Get the full picture from HEi-know: Briefing Report 98