After hitting its 600k int’l enrollment target 10 years early, what’s next for UK int’l education in 2023?

Key takeaways:


  • There are now 605,130 international students enrolled in UK higher education institutions, the Higher Education Statistics Agency reported for the academic year 2020/21.
  • According to the latest up-to-date statistics, 127,731 Indian nationals were granted student visas for the year ending in September 2022. In contrast, only 116,476 Chinese people were granted visas during the same period.
  • The UK government has pledged an extra £15 million in hardship funding for international students.

It can be recalled that the United Kingdom’s international education landscape hit a historic high in terms of international student enrollment last year. Two years after releasing its 2019 Global Strategy, which specified a goal of 600,000 international enrollments by 2030, the UK reached its goal a decade early. The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) said that 605,130 international students were enrolled for the academic year 2020-2021, which represents a growth of about 30% compared to 2017/18 levels.


Now that the UK, one of the leading study destinations worldwide, has reached its international student enrollment target, what’s next for them in 2023?


Several data and government initiatives and reforms indicate that the country’s international education sector is set to perform better this 2023.


International Students in UK Growth Trend Over the Years


The UK continues to see a rise in international students who choose to further their education abroad. This trend is expected to continue in the coming years. The Higher Education Statistics Agency reports revealed that there are 605,130 international students in the UK for the academic year 2020/21. This number is significantly higher compared to the previous year’s 556,625 records.

What’s next for UK international education

There are presently 2,751,865 students officially enrolled specifically in higher education in the UK, an increase of 8.71% from the total number of students in the 2019/2020 academic year when there were 2,532,385.


There was also an estimated 8.7% rise in the total number of international students. This indicates that the growth in the number of international students attending higher education institutions and universities occurred simultaneously with the rise in the number of international students overall.


Furthermore, a total of 463,315 sponsored study visas were issued in the year ending September 2022. This is not only a rebound from the significantly decreased number of study visas issued during the COVID-19 pandemic but also an increase from levels seen before the outbreak.


Diversification of student bodies


Approximately 452,225 international students from outside the European Union are currently enrolled in British higher education institutions, with 143,820 coming from China and 84,555 from India. This suggests that China is the country’s most important market for attracting international students.


However, it has recently been reported that universities in the UK are now actively recruiting students from countries other than China.


There was a record-breaking 273% increase in visa approvals for Indian students studying in the UK last year, causing the number of Indian students to surpass the number of Chinese students looking to study in the UK for the first time. According to the latest figures, 127,731 Indian citizens were granted student visas for the year ending September 2022, compared to 116,476 Chinese students. This change reflects a motivation among UK colleges to diversify their foreign student population from countries other than China due to political concerns and strong reliance on this market for revenue.


UK government’s financial funding for international students


In addition, the UK government pushes for financial resources to bolster its international education community, particularly the welfare of its students. Recently, the government announced that international students will get an additional £15 million in hardship funding.


The government says this will increase the £261 million student premium fund they have set aside this year to benefit underprivileged students.


According to Robert Halfon, the minister for skills, apprenticeships, and higher education, the extra funding would be used to reinforce the help that institutions already provide through bursaries, scholarships, and hardship support schemes.


We still have a long way to go before we can successfully rebuild the international education sector across the globe, but looking ahead, it seems that the UK’s plans to diversify and invest in universities and its students point to a bright future. (SUNEETHA QURESHI)

MSM President

Suneetha has worked for 15 years in the international education sector and 25 years overall for her work for other industries. As president of MSM, she fortifies its business development outreach globally, particularly in the face of MSM’s foray into edtech-based recruitment via MSM Unify. She preserves the premium, value-adding services provided to each MSM partner institute, including dedicated teams on the ground, agent management, lead generation and inquiry management, application prescreening, and student and parent support through pioneering pre-departure briefing sessions.

She has an impeccable track record of successfully launching the representative offices in Asia and Africa of many North American and European higher education institutions. Her key strengths include hiring, training, and developing teams as evidenced by the successful results of the dedicated in-country college and university client teams.


Suneetha also has taken the lead in developing several initiatives at MSM, including building robust standard operating procedures, the Rise ‘n Shine team engagement platform, and the organization’s data analytics and audit segments.



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