More students from China studying in UK than from Northern Ireland, Ucas figures show

Camilla Turner
 A study published earlier this year found that a trade war with the US is driving Chinese students to Britain - PA

The number of Chinese students applying to British universities is up 30 per cent on last year, from 15,240 to 19,760. Meanwhile, applications from Northern Ireland are down by 4 per cent, from 19,310 to 18,520.

There is huge demand among the growing Chinese middle class for their children to have an English education, while British institutions are rushing to cash in on the higher, international student tuition fees they bring in.

Under EU laws, universities must charge European students the same level of fees as their British peers, but non-EU students can be charged at a higher rate. 

David Palfreyman, director of the Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies, said:  “The growth in Chinese students is a phenomenon that links to the growth of the middle class and more being able to send their children abroad to be educated.

“Secondly it wobbles depending on whether Trump has put off Chinese students from applying to American universities”.  

A study published earlier this year found that a trade war with the US is driving Chinese students to Britain.

A fifth (20 per cent) of Chinese students chose the UK as their first choice destination, while 17 per cent opted for America, according to a report by EIC Education, a Chinese education consultancy.

The Trump administration has tightened visa requirements for Chinese students, especially those studying science and technology, amid mounting concerns about espionage.

Mr Palfreyman said that the reduction in the value of the pound since 2016 is another factor, as it has made British universities seem relatively cheaper for overseas students compared to elsewhere.

In total, a record 81, 340 students from outside the EU applied to study in the UK this year, an increase of eight per cent on last year.

The volume of international students rose far more steeply than that of EU students, which has increased by one per cent since 2018.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, warned that universities must not become too financially dependent on the fees from overseas students.  

“It does mean a chunky source of university income is very sensitive to the strength of the political relationship between China and the UK at any given point,” he said.  

"If we hadn’t, completely stupidly, given up our strong position as a recruiter of Indian students, we would have achieved a better balance.”

The figures showed that there although there has been demographic dip in the population of 18-year-olds in the UK in recent years, the proportion of school leavers applying to university has increased from 38.1 per cent last year to 39. 5 per cent in 2019.

Chris Skidmore, the universities minister, said: “International students bring huge cultural and economic benefits to the UK. These figures show we are making good progress in our ambition to open up world-leading higher education to anyone who has the potential to benefit from it and I’m confident that we can go even further.”

Clare Marchant, chief executive of Ucas, said: “The global appeal of UK 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."