Nearly 20% of UK higher education degrees (2006/07) go to non-UK students

The UK, the world’s second largest provider of higher education services for foreign students (see context graphic below from the OECD’s Education at a Glance 2007), has just released new data up to the 2006/2007 academic year. Some key enrolment and graduation points, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA):

  • The total number of HE enrolments at UK HEIs stood at 2,362,815 in 2006/07, an increase of 1% from 2005/06.
  • Between 2005/06 and 2006/07, the number of enrolments of UK domiciled students showed no percentage increase (from 2,006,035 to 2,011,345). The number of all other European Union (EU) domiciled students increased by 6% (from 106,225 to 112,260) and the number of Non-EU domiciled students increased by 7% (from 223,855 to 239,210).
  • 50,385 undergraduate and 75,205 postgraduate students obtaining HE qualifications in 2006/07 came from non-UK countries.
  • Non-UK students accounted for 19% of all students awarded HE qualifications in 2006/07.

The Guardian reports that the UK Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, Bill Rammell, views the increasing dependency of UK universities upon foreign students in a positive way, such that the:

UK remains an extremely popular destination for international students. Our higher education system is world class, and offers very high quality provision. In the recent student satisfaction survey over 80% of international students were satisfied.

Universities UK conveyed a view that these trends “demonstrated the UK to be one of the leading international destinations for students looking for a quality higher education experience”.


Dependency and risk? Expansion of the education services sector and generation of export earnings? Supplement to state-provided resources and diversification of institutional revenue streams? Supplement (aka gap filler) to stalled flows of students (due to “top-up fees”) from the UK? Builder of non-UK capacity via the provision of a ‘quality’ education to non-UK students? Brain drain/brain gain/brain circulation mechanism? All of the above to varying degrees depending on what interpretive perspective is adopted. Regardless, though, the UK is continuing to act as one of the world’s most influential and significant providers of higher education services to non-UK EU students, and to non-EU students, who have the capacity to cross borders in the goal of enhancing their qualifications and experiencing life in another country. The UK is also, curiously, an awkwardly placed ‘player’ in conceptual and policy-making debates about the emerging European Higher Education Area (EHEA), the stated goal to make the EHEA a key driver of Europe’s knowledge economy in accordance with the Lisbon Stategy, and the emerging goal of forging an ‘external dimension‘ to the EHEA. More about the latter issue this Spring in GlobalHigherEd.
Kris Olds

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