‘Adaptable’ and ‘resilient’: More international students enrolled in UK unis this year

international students in the UK
Students from China still form the majority of international students in the UK, and they helped set a record number for autumn 2020 enrolments. Source: AFP Photo/Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament

UK universities recorded a 9% increase in the number of undergraduate students from outside the UK and the EU, according to the latest data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). A total of 44,300 international students enrolled in UK universities this year, despite initial worries that the pandemic would hit the international higher education market hard.

The actual number could be up to 50% higher as not all international students apply through UCAS. The Guardian attributes the record enrolments to the increased overseas recruitment efforts by universities, as well as growing negative sentiment towards the US, and border closures in New Zealand and Australia. UCAS chief executive Clare Merchant commented, “I admire students for their adaptability and resilience in recent months, which will put them in a strong position to thrive on their courses and benefit from the world-class education they’ll receive through a variety of innovative methods this year.”

international students in the UK

Latest immigration measures and foreign recruitment efforts are paying off for UK’s higher education sector. Source: Shutterstock

China, India still top source countries for international students in the UK

As with previous years, the majority of international students in the UK are coming from China (12,980) and India (3,150). Deferrals only rose 0.3% year-on-year. However, UCAS also observed a 2% dip in EU enrolments, which is attributed to Brexit uncertainty.

On top of that, the UK is also seeing a record number of domestic 18-year-olds start university in September; 36% of applicants were accepted this year. Of this, 22.5% are students from disadvantaged areas in the UK, where higher education is not typically prioritised.

internationals students in the UK

More international students will be moving on campus in the coming months. Source: Mark Makela/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP

Universities to introduce “innovative methods”

Universities are introducing measures to offset the effects of the pandemic on learning and socialisation, from hybrid learning to on-demand online learning suited to individual travel plans. “We recognise that students will have different experiences based on their individual circumstances where they are: some will be travelling to the UK, some will be in isolation once they get here, for a couple of weeks,” said Bobby Mehta, director of Global at the University of Portsmouth.

UUKI director Vivienne Stern said these plans have been underway for several months. “We had students on campus during the first lockdown earlier this year and our universities never closed — there were always students on campus and international students, in particular, still living in halls,” she elaborated. Stern believes universities have gone above and beyond the call of duty, adding, “Universities became very good at making sure things like access to food if you can’t go out to shop because you’re isolating, access to healthcare if you fall ill and all of the arrangements are in place so that people don’t have to travel long distances.”

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