Why the UK might no longer be the world's 2nd most popular study destination
EU students are turned off by the impact of Brexit on their movement and tuition fees, whereas non-EU students are hit by the UK's "hostile environment" policies. Source: Shutterstock

In the age of Trump, many are baffled at how the US is turning away heaps of international applicants from its world-class universities. Restrictive immigration policies and the accompanying political rhetoric against foreigners have been blamed for causing the 17 percent decline in student visas issued from 2016, and a 40 percent drop on numbers seen in 2015.

But another study destination is also slowly losing luster: the UK.

Analysing data from the most recent UNESCO Institute of Statistics data on incoming international students, the Centre for Global Higher Education found the UK to be at great risk of losing its position as the second most popular global destination for international students, if it’s not already lost.

The US hosts the greatest number of international students, followed by the UK and Australia.

The UK owes its global number two position to two factors: European students and non-EU students; a position now greatly at risk since the conditions that once made it possible slowly disappear.

Brexit will remove free movement within the EU and eliminate the provision of UK education on the same tuition basis as domestic students.

“The UK is the world’s leading nation in educating international students from Europe at tertiary level, but its leading position is about to be decimated by Brexit’s effect on tuition prices,” the report states.

EU students will most likely head to Germany, the Netherlands or France.

Can the UK then depend on enrolments from non-EU students to defend its position?

Despite reports of Nigerians giving up their life savings to send their children to the UK or UCAS data showing an increase in international applicants, it’s highly unlikely that the UK will be able to maintain its figurehead position.

The report points to the nation’s more than 50 years’ of migration politics and Home Office regulations causing its international students numbers to “flatline”.

As UK numbers stagnate, the gap between the UK and Australia is shrinking. Enrolment data between 2014-15 and 2016-17 shows that numbers of non-EU students enrolling in the UK fell from 312,010 to 307,540.

From this, it’s estimated that Australia will surpass the UK in terms of international student numbers when data from 2016 becomes available.

“It looks certain that Australia has now gone well past the UK in its numbers of international students from outside Europe, and this will be confirmed when the UNESCO data for 2016, 2017 and then 2018 become available,” the report wrote.

The outlook looks bleaker when the total international student enrolment – EU and non-EU – data is considered:

“In terms of total international student numbers in tertiary education, Australia may have surpassed the UK in 2018, and if not will almost certainly do so in 2019. The UK will be number three.”

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