As the UK’s immigration rules for overseas students continue to tighten, the number of individuals coming to the UK from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) to study has been declining.
According to Home Office statistics, in the year ending September 2012, there was an overall decline in student visa numbers by 26% or 73,728. The statistic can be broken down to a 17% decline in sponsored student visa applications for independent schools, 76% decline for English language schools, 67% decline for further education establishments and a 1% increase in the University sector.
Since the introduction of Tier 4 of the Points Based System on 31st March 2009, overseas students looking to study in the UK have to obtain a place at an educational establishment which is licensed by the UK Border Agency (UKBA). Obtaining a licence requires universities to demonstrate to the UKBA that they can be trusted to monitor overseas students and to prevent them from abusing the immigration system. In the first few years the UKBA left universities to get on with managing the licence and their overseas students. However, the UKBA stepped up its efforts to meet the net migration target by suspending Glasgow Caledonian University’s licence in April 2011, suspending Teesside University’s licence in February 2012 and revoking London Metropolitan University’s licence in August 2012.
The increased regulation and enforcement has resulted in a decline in overseas student numbers. This has prompted a number of initiatives by politicians and educational establishments to promote UK education overseas and to overcome the drain in revenue caused by the loss of 73,000 overseas students in the past year.
Boris Johnson’s tour of India in November 2012 focussed on promoting UK education to Indian students. During his tour, he explained that the clampdown on overseas students was sending out the wrong signals and that he was pushing the Government to promote UK education overseas. He released figures showing a 9% fall in Indian students coming to the UK in 2012, with a further 25% fall forecasted for 2013. He explained that this could hit the £2.5 billion of revenue to UK universities from overseas students. Mr Johnson’s solution was to ask the Government to take overseas student numbers out of the net migration target and to give better protection to students if their institution loses their sponsorship licence.
Meanwhile, the University of Reading has established a campus in Malaysia to offer English language and Executive Education programmes in Malaysia. The University of Reading is one of the world’s top 200 universities and has attracted international students to the UK for over 100 years. Their new campus will attract students from all over the world, enhancing the University of Reading’s reach to nationals of some countries which have to meet stricter criteria in order to study in the UK and also generally being a more accessible option to overseas students looking for a UK education.
The increased regulation and enforcement has created a real risk of shrinking the £2.5 billion of revenue to UK universities from overseas students’ tuition fees. Some universities, recognising that the demand for a UK education is still strong, have established supply centres outside the UK. This presents some exciting international opportunities for businesses which service the education sector.