Who are the international students in the UK?


Natalie Gil is a journalist for The Guardian.  Her article in The Guardian (October 13, 2014) explores who the international students that come to the UK are.

It is not surprising that international students flock to the UK as the UK has many world-class universities.  In 2012-2013, about 18% of all students in UK higher education came from other countries.  According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa), and OECD statistics, the UK attracts a large proportion of international students.  The UK in fact has a market share of the global international student market of around 13%, second only to the US on 16.5% (2011 figures).

Even so, Gil says that international students remain an enigma. She believes that while international students are presented as a range of stereotypes by the media, their first hand experiences are rarely voiced by them.

Gil says: "We hear stories about vast wealth – that they are coming from the Middle East, Asia, the US, Russia and India to rent luxury London apartments for £1,000 per week, and are spending tens of thousands on private tuition for exam resits."

"At the other end of the spectrum, we hear about poor students being 'ripped off by bogus colleges' and the Daily Mail carries reports about those feigning student status to 'illegally work for five-figure salaries and claim benefits'."

International students are the largest group of migrants from outside the EU.  Not surprisingly, they are dragged into the immigration debate, with politicians arguing about whether they should be included in statistics on migrant numbers, or not.

International students have many hurdles to overcome and to gain student status.  These are rarely touched on in the media.

Nevertheless, according to a report by Mark Field MP for British Future, students are among the most popular migrants in the UK, with 59% of the public agreeing that the government shouldn’t cut international student numbers.

This agreement by the public may be due to the fact that international students contribute a huge amount to our universities and the economy.  The government has estimated that in 2011-12, international students contributed £3.9bn in tuition fees (after scholarships) and £6.3bn in living expenses.

But after 2010, and in 2012-13, the growth of international student numbers coming to English universities slowed with the number dropping for the first time in nearly three decades.  This, according to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) .

But where are the UK’s international students coming from?

According to HESA, in 2012-13, Chinese students were the largest group of international students studying in the UK, making up almost a fifth of the total.

Indian students were the second largest group.  They comprised 5.3% of the total number of international students.  But according to Hefce, Indian student numbers have declining by around 25% since 2011-2012, coinciding with visa changes.

The same period, 2012-13, around 3.4% came from Germany. This represents the largest number of students from another EU country - eventhough both France and Ireland are geographically closer.  But France and Ireland are  still in the top ten, with close to 3% of our international students coming from each of these countries.

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