Why you should care
Despite Brexit uncertainty, students from China applied in record numbers this year.
The number of applicants to British universities rose slightly this year, from 636,960 to 638,030. But certain groups are being left behind, while others are soaring. In recent years, the British government has stepped up its enticement of foreign students as a way of generating additional income: Applicants not from the European Union typically pay as much as two to three times the fees charged to domestic students.
Maybe that’s why this year, something else happened as the number of U.K. applicants fell by more than 5,000:
For the first time, more Chinese students than Northern Irish ones applied to British universities.
That makes them the fourth largest group of applicants, after those from England, Scotland and Wales. UCAS, the University and Colleges Admissions Service, said applications from China for 2019 soared 30 percent to 19,760 — accounting for about 3 percent of the total. The number of Northern Irish applicants fell slightly to 18,520. Total non-EU applications rose to nearly 13 percent of the total — an 8 percent rise compared with last year — led by China, India and Hong Kong.
Clare Marchant, UCAS CEO, says, “The global appeal of U.K. higher education has never been clearer, with record demographic-beating application rates in England and Wales and the steep rise in international applications, especially from China.”
Applications from EU citizens not residing in the U.K. rose 1 percent to 50,650, led by France and Spain, as uncertainties over Brexit were offset by the weak pound and guarantees that the fees for those beginning studies in the coming academic year would be frozen at the levels paid by domestic students.
The British government has been encouraging foreign students. A core part of its global education strategy to boost export earnings is to increase the number of foreigners in higher education, including at postgraduate level, by nearly a third to 600,000 over the next decade.
The growth has raised some concerns about the support available at U.K. institutions for international students, as well as the effect of large numbers of any single group on the broader experience of study.
A slight rise in applications from British 18-year-olds from 272,920 to 275,520 came despite a 2 percent drop in the number of 18-year-olds in the country.
The number of 18-year-olds in Northern Ireland who applied for undergraduate courses fell slightly to 47 percent of that group; in Scotland, some 33 percent of 18-year-olds applied; in England, the numbers rose to a record 39.5 percent of 18-year-olds; and in Wales, 33 percent of the age group applied.
The share of applications from the most deprived areas of England rose 6 percent in England and 3 percent in Scotland. In a sign of a squeeze on parts of the higher education sector, the share of applications to more prestigious “higher-tariff” institutions rose 3 percent while dropping 3 percent at the lower-tariff ones.
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