On education in Europe and the USA

Clever Magazine
Universities United Kingdom Student life Kirill Delikatnyi

UK Higher Education Perspectives - Numbers Do Not Lie

This article will share a real-time overview on the state of UK education. The UK education system has traditionally stood out as one of the best and most attractive globally, sharing leadership on the education market with countries such as the USA, Switzerland and Finland. Undoubtedly, the world is currently encountering turbulent times that impact student numbers, student experience and quality of education. This article will uncover surprising facts, compare statistics to pre-Covid years, convey projections for the upcoming decade all in the hopes of updating you about the reputation of UK education today.

Student migration

Number of Student Visas issued
Applicants for undergraduate study in the UK
Predicted student numbers for 2035 based on demographic changes alone
As these figures suggest, the turbulent economic start to the ‘20s has surprisingly had minimal effect on the growth of UK student recruitment. 50% fall in EU student share in UK education can be attributed to Brexit, but increase in international students will have positive economic benefits on the UK economy as shown by pervious research (Conlon et al., 2011; Kelly et al., 2014; Department for Education, 2018).
HEPI (Higher Education Policy Institute) predicts that universities across the kingdom will have to expand toward accommodating 350,000 more students by the year 2035; and although their report was published in 2018 un-foreseeing of the pandemic, Brexit, or the war, today’s data shows that the UK education sector seems undisturbed.
However, routes to settlement in the UK have significantly dropped off for international students, signifying that less international students in the UK choose to remain on the island after finishing their studies.


2021 Visa Status of non-EU students, who were issued with a Study Visa in 2016
Grants of visa extension to non-EU students for work reasons before re-introduction of post-study work rights in 2021
This data conveys that the UK has been experiencing a longer term trend in reduction of retention of non-EU students post completion of their studies. Only a small proportion of non-EU immigrants remain in the UK for work (5%) or further study (9%) compared to those who choose to leave the island (83%). These figures cannot be attributed to the global economic stagnation or the cost-of-living crisis, but rather to the migrant policy stance of the UK post-2012 (GOV.UK, 2011). The hardest impacted group of international students demographically were the Indian student population, corresponding with an influx of Indian student enrolment in Canada. In 2021, following Brexit, the UK has re-introduced alternative post-study work rights such as the Graduate Visa, and we are yet to see the impact of this move.
Students who remain in the UK longer-term usually take 10 years to settle (Migration Observatory, 2022), which is in line with the route-to-settlement timeframe, by which foreigners must reside in the UK for ten years prior to applying for citizenship. Together with the cost-of-living crisis, the global economic stagnation, and the mounting competition on the labour market, conditions are becoming more pressurising, setting perspectives more plausible that the non-EU student population in the UK will be taking its talent elsewhere after completing their studies.

Global competition on the education market

% of international HE students coming to the UK compared with UK’s share of international
students globally, with the global student population change presented for reference
Non-EU international student contribution to UK HE sector income
The UK has significantly upped their fees for international students. It is no secret that the private HE sector is not a very profitable market, and the international student population is the relying factor for private HE businesses to remain afloat. The number of international students coming to UK higher education is increasing despite the rising tuition fees, although not at the expansive rate that the global tertiary student population is rising. With the number of students who pursue tertiary education outside of their home country tripling in the last two decades (UNESCO, 2022), the UK is actually losing its global share of all international tertiary students to countries such as Canada, Australia and China.

In 2019, Australia overtook the UK as the second most popular destination for international students. The UK's annual growth rate increased to 8.2% in 2019, after a period of slowed growth between 2014 and 2018. In contrast, the number of international students going to Australia grew year-on-year from 2014, allowing Australia to overtake the UK in 2019 (Universities UK, 2023). Pre-pandemic, competition was growing from other destination countries, namely the US (20% market share), China (9%), Canada (9%), and Australia (8%) (IIE, 2020) – a trend which shows no sign of abating with 70% of foreign applicants to the UK also applying to another country alongside the UK (UCAS, 2020).

The presence of three significant disruptors, namely global competition, geopolitics, and government policy, poses substantial potential constraints. Nevertheless, it's worth noting that domestic UK government policy has the capacity to change, potentially influencing both the inclination and capacity of international students to opt for the UK as their study destination.


Conlon, G., Halterbeck, M. & Hedges, S. (2019). The UK’s tax revenues from international students post-graduation: Report for the Higher Education Policy Institute and Kaplan International Pathways. Oxford, UK: Higher Education Policy Institute.
Kelly, U., McNicoll, I., & White, J. (2014). The impact of universities on the UK economy. London, UK: Universities UK.
Department for Education (2018). UK revenue from education related exports and transnational education activity in 2015. London, UK: Department for Education.
Demand for higher education to 2035 Hepi (2017). Available at: https://www.hepi.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Demand-for-Higher-Education-to-2035_HEPI-Report-134_FINAL.pdf
Student migration to the UK (2022) Migration Observatory. Available at: https://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/briefings/student-migration-to-the-uk/
World higher education conference WHEC2022 - UNESCO (2022). Available at: https://en.unesco.org/sites/default/files/whec2022-presentation.pdf
Major changes to student Visa System, GOV.UK (2011). Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/major-changes-to-student-visa-system
Higher education figures at a glance - UNESCO (2022). Available at: https://uis.unesco.org/sites/default/files/documents/f_unesco1015_brochure_web_en.pdf
Universities UK (2023). Available at: https://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/universities-uk-international/
Project atlas: IIE - The Power of International Education (2020) IIE. Available at: https://iie.widen.net/s/g2bqxwkwqv/project-atlas-infographics-2020
Choose your future (2020) UCAS. Available at: https://www.ucas.com/file/602311/download?