Thursday, 10 January 2013

HESA stats: have international students passed their peak?

Today the Higher Education Statistics Agency have published their Statistical First Release of the number of students in UK higher education institutions in 2011-12.  This gives us the first official data on the number of international students in UK HE in the last academic year.  It doesn't make cheery reading for those who would like to see more international students increasing the diversity of our universities, providing fellow students with a more internationalised experience... and of course financially, numerically and academically helping to keep our HE sector the world-leading success story it currently is.  (Helping with the UK's economic recovery would of course be a bonus.)

The headline figure will no doubt be used by government to say that all is well, as the total number of non-EU students registered in 2011-12 increased 2% from the previous year.  But when compared with rises of 6%, 12% and 9% year on year in the three preceding years, it becomes hard to sustain the claim that this is a success story.

More worrying is what you see when you dig deeper. 

First year non-EU enrolments have not grown.  They have in fact dropped, although by less than 0.5%.  This means the growth in the total comes from previous years' increases working through the system.

In the context of this week's headlines about crisis in funding for UK taught postgraduates, equally worrying is the fact that non-EU postgraduate total enrolments have dropped by 1%.  Take a look at HESA's chart to see in graphic form how dependent full-time postgraduate courses are on non-EU students, and the importance of this particular drop becomes manifest.

Numerous articles in this week's Guardian have put the case for a change in policy.  Let's hope the government is listening.

1 comment:

  1. If the aspiration is for continued growth in non-EU students these figures look worrying. However is it reasonable or realistic to expect them to just go on growing? Are drops of 0.5% and 1% really worrying, or just a blip, or a sign of 'plateauing'? I agree about the government's worrying policy, but there are dangers in crying 'wolf'.