The UK higher education sector has marked a tremendous achievement by hosting 605,130 international students in the academic year 2020/21. According to figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the country has hit the 600,000-target ten years earlier than hoped. A refreshed international education strategy by the UK in 2021 restated the goal to host 600,000 international students by 2030.

Of this massive number of international students in the UK in 2020/21, 452,225 were non-EU students, while 152,905 were from within the EU. The overall number of higher education students in the UK in 2020/21 stood at 2,751,865, indicating a growth of 9% from 2019/20. The 48,505 increase for international students marks a growth of 8.7% from the 2019/20 figures when they totalled 556,625.

The statistics indicated that the domestic first-year students in the country in 2020/21 increased by 13%. Additionally, there was a growth of 4% in overall non-UK first-year students. Country-wise, there was a 27% jump in first-year students from India, but China witnessed the first-time drop by 5%.

Besides the increase in first-year domestic student numbers, the same trend is seen in postgraduate degree candidates for domestic and international students. The figures are impressive despite the apprehension about the impact of the pandemic on the number of international students.

EU-domiciled first-year and postgraduate student enrolments are up this year. The numbers have probably grown because EU applicants may have been encouraged as 2020/21 was the last year they have the guarantee of home fee status. Although the numbers of non-EU first-year students have dropped a bit, the increase in non-EU postgraduate research students has counterbalanced the decline. The number of non-EU postgraduate students stood at 212,515 in 2020/21, while that of the non-EU postgraduate research students was 34,015.

The picture looks bright for UK higher education as it continues to be an attractive international education destination despite the pandemic circumstances. China is among the forerunners, but the numbers from India are increasing steadily, with a notable growth of  67,660 over the last five years. After significant increases in 2019/20 and 2020/21, Indian students represent 19% of non-EU enrolments this year.

After China and India, Nigeria is the largest source market for non-EU students, with 21,305 students hailing from the country. US is at number four with 19,220 students, while Hong Kong is on the fifth spot with 16,665 students in the UK. However, numbers from Malaysia dropped to 11,510, representing 30% over the five years, even below enrolments from Pakistan and Nigeria.

UK institutions hosting international students in maximum numbers

Within the EU, students from Italy represented the most enrolled cohort with 14,605 students. Closely following were France (14,090 students) and Romania (12,860 students). Digging deeper, here is a list of the UK institutions hosting international students in maximum numbers-

  • University College London (23,360)
  • The University of Manchester (17,625)
  • The University of Edinburgh (15,590)
  • King’s College London (15,550)
  • Coventry University (13,760)

Although there is a possibility of fewer students choosing to study abroad because in-person education is still not completely possible, the numbers are still encouraging. Hopefully, things will soon change for the better, and the UK will achieve bigger feats.

If you are considering studying abroad why don’t you discuss your prospects and opportunities with experts at Lurnable’s dedicated study abroad counselling division LurnPathways?

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