Monday, 24 August 2015

An export business

With about a month to go until the start of the new academic year universities are busy with admissions and preparations for enrolment. Nothing new about that. But its worth looking at who is being admitted.

source: HESA, my calculations
The chart shows two things.

The columns, in blue, represent the total number of students enrolled in universities in a given year. The numbers reflect real people, not full-time equivalents, so this is the number of actual people enrolled. They also include all levels - undergraduate, postgraduate taught and research.

The line, in orange, represents the proportion of students whose domicile is outside the UK - that is, from any other EU country or from anywhere in the rest of the world. (A technical note for Theresa may, James Brokenshire and others - domicile is not identical to nationality; there will be a small number of people who count as domiciled outside the UK who have UK citizenship - its very complicated...)

(A second technical note for data geeks - the rest of you can skip over this one. HESA changed population definitions and from 2007-08 did not include writing-up and sabbatical students within the overall student numbers, recording them separately without domiciliary data. The proportion of of non-UK students is calculated on the basic HESA data; the total number of students is the raw HESA data plus the writing up/sabbatical data. The difference is negligible, but best to be clear.)

So the overall picture is one of a growth - and its too soon to see definitively whether there's a peak in 2010-11 or a temporary trough in 2012-13 and 2013-14. But the growing proportion of non-UK domiciled students adds to the picture: here's another chart, with one fewer significant axis:

source: HESA, my calculations
The blue is UK domiciled student numbers, the orange is students from the rest of the world. (Data geeks: I've assumed the split for writing-up students mirrors the split for PG students generally and calculated on this basis.)

This seems to me to show that UK student numbers in 2013-14 are pretty much where they were in 2002-03 (actually about eight thousand fewer). The number of UK domicile students hasn't been static over the period - there were nearly 1/4 million more in 09-10 than in 13-14), but the overall growth between 02-03 and 13-14 is driven by non-UK students.

This really does go to show that higher education is an export business. Universities UK regularly seeks to explain - to government and to the public - that universities are a major export industry. And with good reason - without overseas students in particular, many UK universities would be in financial difficulty. It would be a good idea - economically speaking - for the government to discount overseas students from its migration figures, and ease up on visa restrictions.

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