International student numbers

5th August 2020

The global pandemic caused by Covid-19 may cause a reduction in the number of overseas students at UK universities in the academic year 2020/21. Dataloft estimate that there are 130,000 overseas students living in the private rental sector in the UK. This makes them an important element of demand for accommodation in university cities.

Forbes have reported on a study, recently conducted by BridgeU, that investigated the plans of students intending to enrol in universities this coming academic year. 67% of international students indicate they are not changing their plans for 2020. Of the 33% who are changing plans, the vast majority (86%) still plan to attend a university but have changed either the country or university they initially intended. Sadly this has resulted in a predicted decrease of 56% of international students intending to study in the UK. Only 3% decided against enrolling in a university.

Despite all these shifts, the market for international students will still be dominated by the UK, Canada, and the U.S. – together accounting for 85% of all 2021 prospective international students’ top countries of choice on the BridgeU platform.

In her speech at the Festival of Higher Education the Universities Minister said ‘…I also want to celebrate the fantastic reputation that our higher education sector has internationally. It is quite right that the UK is increasingly a destination of choice for top students from across the world. And I am determined to build on that and have thrown my full support behind the sector. In fact, in recognition of the impact COVID-19 is having on international students, I have made the case across Government to ensure we are as flexible as we can be.

These flexibilities include enabling international students to complete blended learning for the upcoming academic year. We have also confirmed that undergraduate and master’s graduates, will benefit from two years of leave in the UK to work, or look for work, under the new, globally competitive, Graduate route, when it is introduced in Summer 2021. And on 1st July we announced that PhD graduates will benefit from three years of leave.

I am also delighted to have announced Sir Steve Smith as the new International Education Champion, delivering on a key action in Government’s 2019 International Education Strategy. Sir Steve will assist with opening up opportunities and tackling challenges to attract international students, support export growth and make new global connections…’

With lockdown relaxed and UK borders open, we hope some normality will have returned by September, but students are likely to delay decisions to see how the pandemic progresses. It has been suggested that the deficit from lower international student numbers may be replaced by an increase in master’s students. With job opportunities lower than usual and plans for a travelling gap year unstable, many are considering extending their time in higher education.