Page last updated at 08:00 GMT, Thursday, 21 May 2009 09:00 UK

More overseas students 'found'

By Liz Lightfoot

It appears more international students are studying at UK universities

There are many more international students at the UK's universities than previously thought, a study by the British Council suggests.

The figures suggest there were 513,570 such students in the past academic year not 389,330 as previously thought.

Many had been classified by the UK address from which they had applied, not the country on their passport.

The increase means the UK rivals the USA as the top destination for overseas students, the council says.

The US, which is the world leader for global student recruitment, has 623,805 international students.

New counting method

The study by the British Council follows the decision to include nationality for the first time in 2007-08 as a compulsory field in data submitted by universities to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa).

Previously the agency has counted international students on the basis of "domicile" - the country where they lived when making their application.

It brings the UK in line with most other countries which count students on the basis of the passports they hold and helps to explain the large gap between the number of student visas issued and the smaller number who enrol on courses.

Simon Kemp from Hesa said: "We have not so far made any plans to change the way we publish the data. We will continue to use domicile.

"Nationality has not been a compulsory field until now and we don't know what these figures mean.

"We don't know to what extent the number of non-UK nationals recorded as being UK domiciled have lived here for a short time or whether most of them might have lived here for a long time and kept a different nationality.

"We are talking about only 5% of the 2.3 million students in UK higher education. We don't know who they are and there isn't anything in the data which tells us."

He said universities were told to take the domicile information from the admissions service Ucas for undergraduates and those postgraduates who apply through Ucas which they are now allowed to do for some courses.

It would be up to universities how they get the information from other students, he said.


Many of the 124,240 international students missing from the data will have made their applications while completing foundation or English language courses in the UK or at British boarding schools.

Others will be moving from undergraduate to postgraduate study.

The figures on overseas recruitment have become more significant since Tony Blair launched the second phase of the Prime Minister's Initiative in 2006.

This five-year strategy, which has been continued by Gordon Brown, aims to increase the number of full-fee paying students from abroad who bring important revenue for universities and closer links with other world economies.

Countries sending the most students to the UK, based on domicile, are even more important suppliers of graduates and undergraduates under the new nationality measure.

The number of students from China goes up from 49,090 to 55,185 and those from India from 27,905 to 35,245. The number from Nigeria almost doubles from 12,680 to 21,010 and the figure from Zimbabwe increases fourfold, from 2,105 to 9,805.

The new figures also reveal a significant increase in the number of nationals from other European Union countries whose postgraduate and undergraduate fees are subsidised by the UK authorities.

Those on first degree courses are offered zero interest rate (in real terms) loans from the British government to fund their fees on the same basis as home students.

Using the domicile criteria there were 17,425 students from Germany in UK higher education in 2007-08, which rises to 21,285 on nationality.

The number of Polish nationals goes up from 9,160 to 15,450 and Italians from 7,290 to 11,300.

Course subjects

The British Council has yet to apply the nationality data to the choice of courses, but even under the old domicile measure full-time postgraduate overseas students outnumbered the UK students in three fifths of subject areas.

In business and administrative studies 83% of postgraduates were from overseas and in social studies it was 73%. In two key areas - biological sciences and engineering and technology - they accounted for 72% and 62% respectively.

The British Council's director of higher education, Pat Killingley, said the inclusion of the additional foreign students was good news for UK higher education.

"It is only now that we can see the full picture showing the extent of the UK's success in global recruitment, particularly from some of the world's most important emerging economies," she said.

"We have believed for some time that we have many more international students than were being counted and we can now see that the UK is challenging the USA and meeting the objectives of the Prime Minister's Initiative for international education by bringing enormous economic benefit, expanding the knowledge base and helping to build positive relationships with people around the world."

A spokesperson for the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills said the figures were proof of the success of the UK's higher education sector.

"Students are attracted to study here because of the world class reputation of our universities and by the high quality degrees that are valued across the world.

"International students pay the full cost of their study and contribute significantly to the UK both financially and socially. That is why we are proud that the UK remains a top destination for international students and why we are proud of our success in recruiting them. "

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