As a result of students who postponed travel due to the pandemic, the UK has granted the biggest number of student visas on record, fueling an upward trajectory in demand from nations like India and Nigeria.
As per the latest Home Office figures, about 4,30,000 visas were issued to students and their dependents in the year to September, rising more than 50% from the same time prior to the pandemic and up 39% from the previous annual record set in 2010. The number includes just over 20,000 study visas granted to citizens of continental Europe, the majority of whom were required to apply for visas to study in the UK for the first time this year as a result of Brexit.
Dependent visas have nearly tripled to around 45,000. Even if these adjustments had not been made, the previous record for study visas awarded in a single year would almost certainly have been shattered by a considerable margin.
In the year to September, there was also a 38% increase in applications for education providers to sponsor visas, with universities accounting for 91% of the total. The Home Office acknowledges that “this is the highest annual number…on record, with the large increase representing both a rebound from lower levels during the Covid-19 pandemic as well as gains above the pre-pandemic period.”
According to the numbers, a large percentage of the surge occurred in September, with almost 1,40,000 granted in that month alone, more than double the number in September 2019. According to the Home Office, there are “a few probable explanations” for the total increase during the year, with the pandemic and longer-term patterns being the most prominent.
“Students who either deferred starting a course, took a break from studying and are now resuming, or began a course by a distance last year and did not choose to apply for a visa at that point could be increasing in number as they return to in-person educational settings,” the statistics release says.
“This could be combined with a further general trend of growth in international students applying for visas to study, as from 2017 until the pandemic there was a strong annual growth in student visas, averaging at approximately 10 per cent per annum over the period.”
It goes on to say that “changes to immigration laws affecting study visas throughout this period may have resulted in even more applications and grants,” implying that the UK’s decision to reopen post-study job paths this year was a factor.
With respect to visas issued by nationality, Chinese students received the most, with almost 1,35,000 issued in the year to September, up 13% from the year before the pandemic, when the last similar annual period was not affected. However, the new China total represented a far lower share of overall study visas: 32% vs 43% in the year to September 2019, owing to much bigger rises in countries like India.
Financial awards to Indian nationals reached just over 90,000 this year, up 197% from the previous year, while Nigeria – another of the UK’s declared priorities for international student recruitment – saw a 368 per cent growth from just under 8,000 in the previous year to almost 37,000 this year.
Pakistan and Bangladesh also saw significant rises. The results, however, corroborate other evidence that suggests a drop in European Union nationals’ interest in studying in the UK after Brexit.
According to the Home Office, the 20,774 study visas awarded to students from the European Economic Area and Switzerland (excluding Ireland) since January comprised only 6% of the total in 2021, “a relatively modest number compared to work visas,” which accounted for 13% of all those awarded this year.
Students from France received the most study grants (3,872), trailed by students from Germany (3,500) and Spain (3,500). (3,183). These three nationalities accounted for roughly half of all EEA and Swiss grants. There are still no comparable visa figures because this is the first year such nationals have required one, the estimated total of 20,000 does not appear to be a large number when contrasted to the 64,000 EU students who began courses in the UK in 2019-20, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.