International applications to UK universities to rise by 50% – report

Applications to UK universities are set to rise by nearly 50% within five years from international students, according to new figures from Ucas.

In a survey of more than 1,200 students across 116 countries planning to study internationally, factors such as global admiration of the NHS and the English language were important for those considering university in the UK.

Ucas forecasts that the volume of international undergraduate applicants will increase by 46% to 208,500 by 2026.

The Ucas and College Board’s new report – Where Next? What influences the choices international students make? – shows that during the pandemic, 88% of students viewed the UK as either a positive or very positive place to study, while 77% said they were applying because of the country’s strong academic reputation.

Students from different countries had varying reasons for wanting to study abroad, with 80% of Nigerian students wanting to gain skills that would help them in their careers, while 75% of Indian students said that the most important factor in their decision were the “better quality” universities found abroad compared with those at home.

Students are also five times more likely to say securing a job in their destination country, rather than their home nation, is their top priority.

International students were also found to be highly independent, with over half saying their own research had informed their choice of country to study in, while just 1% referenced their teachers.

And around two thirds (69%) of international applicants applying to the UK say they are intending to self-fund, compared with 4% of domestic students.

They are also more likely to prioritise the university they wish to study at than their subject choice – 55% of international students enter high-tariff universities in the UK, 27 percentage points higher than UK students.

More than 70% of applicants who gain places from Singapore, China and Malaysia enter higher tariff universities in the UK.

In 2021, more than half of international students accepted through Ucas to study in the UK came from seven countries – China, India, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Portugal, the US and Ireland – with two in every nine coming from China.

Nigeria, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have also seen a surge in applications to the UK in recent years.

Clare Marchant, Ucas chief executive, said: “International students are showing extraordinary resilience – the universal appeal of living and studying in another country continues.

“Despite the challenges of the pandemic, international students have pursued the opportunities available to them and we forecast sustained growth in interest to study in the UK to continue into the next decade.

“Our findings from this joint research with College Board focus on international students’ mindsets and what they want from their higher education experience.

“To continue to inspire and support international students to cross borders, the global higher education community should personalise applicants’ experiences, using information that’s relevant and useful for specific countries to share the outstanding opportunities on offer.”

Linda Liu, College Board’s vice president of international, said, “As we are on the precipice of the world reopening, these results reaffirm the desire of so many students to study in another country. We see this desire manifest in our programs at the College Board, from the many students who want to send their SAT scores to universities outside of their home country to the record-setting number of students taking AP (Advanced Placement) exams outside the US.”