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UK Universities Welcomed 6,05,130 International Students in 2020, Target Achieved A Decade Early

According to Higher Education Statistics Agency data, UK higher education establishments hosted 6,05,130 international students in the 2020/21 academic year, exceeding the target of 6,00,000, a decade faster than expected.

In 2020/21, 452,225 international students were registered as non-EU students, while 1,52,905 were registered as students from the European Union. In 2020-21, the total number of higher education students in the country was 2,751,865, a 9% rise from 2019-20.

This increase in the number of international students represents an 8.7 per cent increase over 2019-20 estimates when non-UK students totalled 5,56,625. First-year students from India increased by 27% in 2020-21, while those from China decreased by 5% for the first time.

According to the data, while domestic first-year students increased by 13%, non-domestic first-year students expanded by 4%. In 2021, a revised UK foreign education policy reaffirmed the country’s aim to welcome 6,00,000 overseas students by 2030.

Together with the increase in first-year domestic students, the number of tutored postgraduate degree applicants increased for both domestic and overseas students, according to HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency).

Amid concerns about the pandemic’s possible impact on international student enrollment, 2020-21 Student Statistics reflects the overall growth in international first-year students.

First-year first-degree student numbers from the EU are rising by 8%, which is only slightly lower than the rate of growth for first-year students overall; EU-domiciled postgraduate student enrolment is also up, albeit at a slower rate.

HESA’s lead policy and research analyst, Essen-Fishman, added that EU candidates may have been urged not to postpone their studies because 2020-21 was the final year they would be assured home fee status.

The presence of international first-year students from countries outside the EU has decreased somewhat, from 74,975 in 2019-20 to 73,455 in 2020/21.

The reduction is offset by a 7% increase in non-EU postgraduate research students and an 8% increase in non-EU taught postgraduate students. In 2020-21, there were 2,12,515 non-EU postgraduate students, with 34,015 non-EU postgraduate research students.

While first-year student numbers in the UK have increased the most, it becomes evident that, despite the current conditions, UK higher education continues an appealing alternative for international students. China accounted for 32% of all non-EU students in 2020-21, accounting for 1,43,820 students.

The number of Chinese students has increased by 48,225, or 50%, in the five years running up to 2020-21. While the number of Indian students enrolled is not as large as that of China, there has been a significant growth of 67,660 over the last five years.

The acting head of Policy and Global Engagement at UK Foreign Universities, Stephanie Harris, stated that the UK had met the recruiting target outlined in its global educational strategy “far ahead of time.”

This expansion is a testimony to the students’ resilience, as well as the perseverance of our members, those in the broader sector, and the government, who have worked collectively to ensure that students from all over the world are welcomed in the UK.

With “significant growth” in both 2019-20 and 2020-21, students from India account for 19 per cent of total non-EU enrolments in 2020/21, or 84,555 students. Nigeria was the third most prevalent source market for non-EU students, contributing to 21,305, somewhat more than the 19,220 from the United States.

Hong Kong was the fifth most common nationality, with 16,665 students – the same number as in 2016-17, when there were 16,870 students from Hong Kong. Furthermore, enrolment from Malaysia fell by 30% over the last five years, slipping below enrolments from Nigeria and Pakistan, according to HESA, falling to 11,510 in 2020-21.

Within the EU, Italian students accounted for the largest enrolled cohort at UK providers in 2020-21, totalling 14,605 students. France (14,090 students) and Romania were next (12,860 students).

According to HESA, Romania has surpassed France in terms of student enrolment numbers from the EU for providers in England, with more students from Ireland enrolling than from any other EU country at providers in Scotland. In 2020-21, a total of 2,375 students from Ireland attended Scottish providers, somewhat more than the 2,360 students from Germany.

University College London (23,360 international students), The University of Manchester (17,625), The University of Edinburgh (15,590), King’s College London (15,550), and Coventry University were the institutions with the most international students at all levels (13,760).

The numbers also revealed that 4,88,095 students were studying with UK providers but were stationed entirely outside of the country.

According to the transnational education statistics, a total of 409,165 non-EU students were registered or studying for an award with a UK HE institution. Within the EU, the figure was 78,930.

HESA added that while many international and work placements for UK students were conducted remotely, the data still shows that remote study abroad programs or work placements appear in our dataset as either abroad or on placements, just as they would if the programs were conducted on-campus at the university.

“Although it seemed possible that fewer students would choose to embark on a study abroad program or work placements knowing that those programs would not take place in person, we saw no unusual year-on-year change in the number of students on work placements or studying abroad,” Essen-Fishman added.

Higher Education Student Data, a new open data publication from HESA, will be issued in February, including more extensive breakdowns from the 2020-21 HESA Student, Student Alternative, Aggregate Offshore, and ITT records.

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