Where will the international students go?

This topic was front and centre at many meetings in our recent trip to the UK and Europe. Government policy changes are having dramatic impacts on international student number enrolments at some universities, and this in turn is resulting in shrinking budgets.

At the forefront of this issue is the United Kingdom. Brexit, recent restrictions on postgraduate visas and a review of postgraduate working rights are resulting in UK universities witnessing a decline in international student numbers. There were approximately 40% fewer EU student applications in 2021 compared to the previous year. This decline, coupled with frozen tuition fees and rising operating costs, is pushing many universities into deficit, affecting capital planning and projects being paused.

European countries have seen a continual rise of international students, and some leaders have started to question whether a balance needs to be struck to ensure there are sufficient places for local students. Denmark have worked to move international student places away from major cities while also reducing the number of courses taught in English. France saw record numbers of non-EU students enrolling and have tightened visas.  The Netherlands are planning to limit international numbers with housing being a key issue. Students are attracted to the prime locations of EU universities, but potentially enrol without housing confirmed.

Germany takes a different approach, having just reached record levels of international enrolments. Popular due to its reputable science and technologically culture, no-to-low tuition and high post-graduation employment rates, Germany is becoming an ever-more attractive destination for international students.  

Canada, also a popular destination for international students, are tightening the belt on enrolments with a recent announcement to cut visas by a third. Similarly, Australia has implemented stricter visa requirements, including higher financial thresholds, increased English language proficiency and a proposal to reduce graduate temporary work visa from age 50 to 35. The US still stands as the hotspot for international students, having seen a surge in enrolments returning them to pre-pandemic levels.

The picture of international education is evolving, but what is clear is the impact these policies have on the bottom line for universities.  The uncertainty creates challenges when planning major capital projects, the introduction of a policy potentially derailing years of planning. The sector has however clearly moved away from the Covid-hypothesis that much international education would be online, students clearly desire the travel to foreign countries. We will be writing more about the differences we see in the data between international and domestic students when it comes to on-campus experience.


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