The number of foreign students is set to increase by almost 50 per cent in five years, the university admissions service predicts today.
It says there is renewed interest in living in the UK, since Covid restrictions lifted, with the NHS and English language a particular draw.
International students are stereotypically drawn to business and law degrees but new analysis by Ucas shows that statistics, materials science and artificial intelligence are the three most popular, with more than a third on those courses from abroad.
More than half of international students in the UK are from just seven countries — China, India, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Portugal, the US and Ireland — with those from China making up two in nine of the total.
Ucas forecasts that the volume of international undergraduate applicants will increase by 46 per cent, from around 144,000 last autumn to 208,500 by 2026. Its report shows that during the pandemic, 88 per cent of students viewed the UK as a “positive” or “very positive” place to study, while 77 per cent said they were applying because of the country’s academic reputation.
Students from different countries had varying reasons for wanting to study abroad, with 80 per cent of Nigerian students wanting to gain skills that would help them in their careers, while 75 per cent of Indian students said that the most important factor in their decision were the “better quality” universities found abroad. 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 are more focused on the most selective universities than domestic students, with a higher proportion of their cohort going to “higher tariff” universities.
More than 70 per cent of applicants who gain places from Singapore, China and Malaysia enter highly selective universities. Nigeria, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have also seen a surge in applications to the UK in recent years.
The number of applicants from China has almost trebled in ten years and it has more than trebled for those from India, the United Arab Emirates and South Africa. In the last five years, the number of applicants from Nigeria has more than doubled while those from Pakistan have risen by more than half. Candidate numbers from Hong Kong and Ireland are up by more than a quarter in the last two years.
The Ucas report looks at how international students make their choices. It finds one in ten decided by the age of 11 to study abroad and half are following in the footsteps of a parent.
Prospects after graduation are more important for those wanting to study in the US, Singapore and the UK, whereas experiencing life in that country is a more important draw to those considering Italy and the Netherlands.
Clare Marchant, the chief executive of Ucas, said: “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.”
The report says 5.6 million students, equivalent to the entire population of Singapore, study in a different country to their home nation. It says: “The UK continues to be a leading host destination . . . second only to the US with both countries collectively hosting 30 per cent of international students.”