International students in the UK: who are they really?
Posted on October 14, 2014
The UK has many world-class universities, so it’s unsurprising that international students flock to our shores in their thousands.
Around 18% of all students in UK higher education came from other countries in 2012-13, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa), and OECD statistics show that the UK attracts a large proportion of international students globally, with a market share of around 13% in 2011 (pdf, page 307), second only to the US on 16.5%.
Nevertheless, international students themselves remain an enigma: while they are presented as a range of stereotypes by the media, it’s rare that we hear about their experiences first hand.
We hear stories about vast wealth – that they are coming from the Middle East, Asia, the US, Russia and India to rent luxury London apartments for £1,000 per week, and are spending tens of thousands on private tuition for exam resits.
At the other end of the spectrum, we hear about poor students being “ripped off by bogus colleges” and the Daily Mail carries reports about those feigning student status to “illegally work for five-figure salaries and claim benefits”.
As the largest group of migrants from outside the EU, international students are also dragged into the immigration debate, with politicians arguing about whether they should be included in statistics on migrant numbers.
The hurdles they have to overcome to gain student status are rarely touched on in the media.
Despite this, a report by Mark Field MP for British Future finds that students are among the most popular migrants in the UK, with 59% of the public agreeing that the government shouldn’t cut international student numbers.
This may be partly because they contribute a huge amount to our universities and economy – the government estimated that in 2011-12, international students contributed £3.9bn in tuition fees after scholarships and £6.3bn in living expenses.
But the growth of international student numbers coming to English universities slowed after 2010, and in 2012-13 the number dropped for the first time in nearly three decades, according to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) .
Where are the UK’s international students coming from?
Chinese students were the largest group of international students studying in the UK from 2012-2013, making up almost a fifth of the total, according to data released by HESA this year (Excel spreadsheet).
Indian students were the second largest group, comprising 5.3% of international students, despite their number declining by around 25% since 2011-2012, according to Hefce, coinciding with visa changes.
Around 3.4% came from Germany – the largest number of students from another EU country, despite both France and Ireland being geographically closer. France and Ireland still make the top ten though, with close to 3% of our international students coming from each country.
We’ve interviewed a student from each of these countries to find out what life’s really like as an international student at a UK university.
Expect confessions about craving native cuisines, criticisms of British attitudes towards alcohol and “lad culture”, and find out which country’s teenage girls bring suitcases of their own sanitary towels to the UK.
13 October 2014