Some Facts About Student Migration

21 10 2016


After what appears to have been a fight within the Cabinet over whether to cut the number of student visas it issues, the government has signalled that it wishes to dramatically reduce the number of foreign students admitted each year.

2015 Net Migration Figures

Non-Citizens of the UK British Citizens
Immigration 633,000 82,000
Emigration 306,000 126,000
Net Migration 327,000 -43,000



In the wake of the referendum vote to Leave the UK, which the government has chosen to interpret as a mandate to dramatically reduce the annual intake of migrants, ministers are looking at cutting the headline “net migration” figure by an order of magnitude, which would mean taking it down to about 30,000 per annum. The intention is to take far fewer immigrants each year and to change the mix of immigrants coming in so that they are almost exclusively highly skilled workers (e.g., brain surgeons, bankers, and computer programmers).

For the higher education sector, which is heavily reliant on the tuition fees paid by foreign students, whether students are included in the annual “immigration” figures, a seemingly arcane question of statistical methodology, is vitally important, for if they are included, the government will be virtually obliged to drastically reduce the number of student visas issued each year. That’s because the current number of students admitted each year would, just by itself, cause the government to miss its targets unless it stopped all inward movement of other types of migrants (skilled workers, refugees, expat executives, etc) AND re-introduced state-subsidized programs to incentivize working-class British people  to move to Commonwealth countries.


According to data from the Passenger Survey collected at UK ports of entry, about 60% of the non-EU migrants arriving in the UK are students. Now according to Migration Watch, an organisation that wants to slash the number of migrants, a large proportion of these students are bogus – people who are nominally registered at universities but are really here with the intention of working or staying in the UK after their studies are completed. Other robustly dispute this claim.

If the UK government does go ahead with the plan to slash the number of students coming into the UK, it will have a massive impact on university finances. Of course, not all universities and departments will be equally affected, as some institutions and programs are far more reliant on foreign students than others. This change in the higher education sector would also have serious implications for a range of economic interests, including landlords and Chinese supermarkets located near campuses. Many people, not just university lecturers planning their career moves, will need to review their strategies. I would imagine that Oxford University, the alma mater of most of the key policymakers, will be spared massive reductions in the number of student visas it issues for largely sentimental reasons.

In the interests of allowing lecturers and other people to adjust their career strategies in light of the likely impact of the cuts in numbers, I’m sharing some statistics that were produced by the Higher Education Statistics Agency. These stats reveal

That in 2014-15, there were 436,585 students from outside the UK coming to study in the UK.

The number of Chinese students far exceeds any other nationality at 89,540.

Indian students are the next largest cohort with 18,320 although this represents a continuing drop from the previous year and the year before.

University College London (now including the Institute of Education) hosted the largest number of international (EU and non-EU) students in the UK with a total of 20,745.

Business and administrative studies have the largest proportion of international students (38.4% of students in this subject are international) with Engineering and technology second (33.1%) and Law third (26.3%).


Foreign Students (EU and non-EU) represent a significant proportion of the degrees granted in a typical year.


Higher Education qualifications obtained in 2014-15

Full time study Higher Degrees (research and taught) Other postgraduate First degree Other undergraduate
UK domicile 45,525 28,205 293,535 42,285
EU students (not incl UK) 20,090 1,270 9,420 1,635
non-EU 85,750 4,870 45,390 5,350
Part time study
UK domicile 31,285 33,135 34,385 36,315
EU students (not incl UK) 2,595 880 630 730
non-EU 5,895 2,010 2,205 1,505

Source: HESA ‘Students in Higher Education 2014-15’ [^]Table 17


Top 20 largest recruiters of international students 2014-15

Institution postgraduate students undergraduate students  Total number of international students
University College London 7,200 6,345 13,545
The University of Manchester 5,650 6,565 12,215
The University of Edinburgh 4,530 5,550 10,080
Coventry University 3,715 5,385 9,100
The University of Sheffield 4,485 3,965 8,450
Kings College, London 4,205 4,140 8,345
The University of Birmingham 5,780 2,520 8,300
University of the Arts, London 2,015 6,130 8,145
Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine 4,235 3,730 7,965
The University of Warwick 3,695 3,730 7,425
The University of Oxford 5,190 2,155 7,345
The University of Glasgow 3,675 3,665 7,340
The University of Nottingham 3,075 4,170 7,245
The City University 4,205 3,000 7,205
London School of Economics and Political Science 4,995 2,055 7,050
Cardiff University 3,455 3,535 6,990
The University of Southampton 3,995 2,900 6,895
The University of Liverpool 2,040 4,825 6,865
University of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne 3,315 3,295 6,865
The University of Cambridge 3,960 2,400 6,360

Source: HESA First Statistical Release 224 (2014-15) [^]Table 3.
Note that totals include EU and non-EU students, full-time and part-time study.

The stats in the previous table just tell us the number of foreign students attending each university in absolute terms and they don’t tell us the extent to which the university is dependent on foreign students for revenue. One can, however, gauge the internationality of a university’s undergraduate student body from looking at these data from The Complete University Guide. These data suggest that the elite Russell Group universities are actually more dependent on fees from foreign students than the lower-ranked universities. At LSE,  44.3% of students are ‘International’ (i.e., from outside the EU– this number doesn’t include the large number of continental European students there).












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