by Kristina Murkett
Wednesday, 26
January 2022
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The UK mops up students from Zero Covid countries

The pandemic has increased, not decreased, the number of foreign applications
by Kristina Murkett
Credit: Getty

Over the last two years numerous institutes, directors and government bodies have worried about the number of international students at UK universities drastically falling because of the Covid pandemic. However, recent figures released from HESA UK (Higher Education Statistics Agency) prove that in fact, quite the opposite has happened.

According to HESA, the number of Chinese students has risen by 50% over the last 5 years, meaning that 32% of all non-EU international students are from China (in the last year, however, this figure has fallen 5%). Nigeria ranks fourth in terms of international enrolment, but the number has tripled from 7440 in 2019/2020 to 21,305 in 2020/2021. And despite Brexit and Covid chaos, the number of EU international students has also increased over the last two years, with Italy sending the most students. Most staggering though is the increase in the number of Indian students studying in the UK. In 2016/2017 it was 16,900; in 2020/2021 it was 84,555 — an increase of 400%.

There are numerous reasons behind these increases; one of the most important being the decisions by other countries to close their borders. Australia, for example, has seen their international enrolment halve since the start of the pandemic. Similar patterns were seen in America (a drop of 45% in new students), New Zealand (two-thirds) and China, all of which had, or still have, some of the strictest travel policies.

There are undeniable benefits to having diverse, international classrooms, but we should also be concerned about these growing numbers. There are undeniable benefits to having diverse, international classrooms, but there are drawbacks too. Many others have written about the political and financial risks of universities’ dependence on Chinese students. Some rely on China for a quarter of their entire income; UCL tops the list with an estimated £127 million worth of funding from Chinese students alone.

Others have argued that our language requirements for international students are too low, and this might impact the quality of teaching and learning for both the students themselves and their peers. In his 2020 book Internationalisation of Post-1992 UK Universities, Peter Brady argues that recruitment of international students has become too commercial, and a means to plug funding gaps rather than attract the best and brightest students.

These increases have also started affecting domestic applicants. The number of UK students enrolled at Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial and LSE has fallen between 2014 and 2019, which is unsurprising given that applications from international students have risen by 56% over the same period. These international students may well be here thanks to academic talent and ability, but it’s easy to see why money may get in the way of objectivity; for instance, an international Medicine student may pay up to £38,000 a year, which is four times more than a UK student would.

The rapid shift to universities acting like businesses in search of revenue has not been arrested by the pandemic — in the UK at least, it is only speeding up.

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R Wright
R Wright
3 months ago

“There are undeniable benefits to having diverse, international classrooms” – could you kindly list these benefits?

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
3 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

There are so many, she mentioned it twice:

“There are undeniable benefits to having diverse, international classrooms, but we should also be concerned about these growing numbers. There are undeniable benefits to having diverse, international classrooms, but there are drawbacks too.”

David Bell
David Bell
3 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Dalton

Unherd sometimes stutters in that way. Get a competent proofreader, Unherd.

Andrea Re
Andrea Re
3 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

That you come across people from different cultures and different points of view.
I can think of only pluses (assuming that people who have been admitted are of the required standard).

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 months ago
Reply to  Andrea Re

Historically the university scholarship exams ( fiest year degree standard )were the hardest entrance test of any country which were phased out along with O Levels and and S Levels but this is in the past . British exams and interviews did require a certain ability to think for oneself. One can be good at passing exams but lack the ability to innovate. B Wallis was hopeless at passing exams bit was one of the most innovative engineers in the World.
The Great Inventor – YouTube
I doubt many Chinese are innovative.To be innovative one has to challenge ones superiors. As B Wallis ” Everything I have achieved has been in despite of the experts, not because of them “. Having undergraduates who pay well, do not challenge them and lack ingenuity makes the academics life much easier.

David Bell
David Bell
3 months ago
Reply to  Andrea Re

Here’s a very significant minus. There is seething rivalry between pro-Beijing Chinese and HK and Taiwanese. The mainlanders are ordered to spy on the latter and snitch to the Chinese authorities.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

One very large benefit is we get other countries to pay large sums to educate their best and brightest young – and then get to poach them after they graduate. Many of the most excellent immigrants are ones allowed to remain on after they become highly educated and therefore valuable – educated experts, And Young = excellent immigrant. Worth 100X unskilled illegal migrants, maybe 1000X.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
3 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Or they could emulate the success of the Soviets at Oxbridge in the thirties, by being poached by us and then spying on behalf of China.

Lindsay Snoman
Lindsay Snoman
3 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

International students pay more to be there. From the point of view of the University, that’s a massive benefit!

Hugh Marcus
Hugh Marcus
3 months ago
Reply to  Lindsay Snoman

Or conversely, it lets the government off the hook for underfunding our universities

Michael Davis
Michael Davis
3 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Marcus

Overfunding many of our worst universities i think

Will R
Will R
3 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

Apart from young people being exposed to different cultures, backgrounds, experiences, lifestyles and attitudes, with any luck developing a broader mind, increased tolerance and curiosity, I can’t think of any.

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
3 months ago

This is not only detrimental to British students, it is packing small, historic cities like Durham with far too many people, to the detriment of locals and the historic environment.