100,000 more international students in the next five years

The number of foreign students studying at UK higher institutions is expected to rise by 20 per cent, according to government estimates

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The Independent Online

Roughly half a million international students are enrolled at UK universities and colleges, yet under new government plans to attract thousands more overseas students, the figure could increase by nearly 100,000.

A new government report published today sets out minsters’ plans to attract foreign students, stating that it is ‘realistic’ to expect a growth of 15 to 20 per cent in the next five years.

In 2011/2012 there were 435,000 international students studying at 163 UK universities and colleges and a further 53,000 at 159 "alternative providers" such as private colleges - almost 500,000 students in total. The predicted increase would see an estimated extra 90,000 students arrive from overseas.

The news has been welcomed by universities. Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: “This strategy comes at a crucial time. While UK universities remain extremely attractive to international students around the world, we have seen evidence recently of a slowdown in enrolments.”

China, India, the Middle East and parts of South America are expected to send higher numbers of students to the UK to continue their education, the report suggests.

The news comes after fears that the government’s aggressive immigration policies could damage overseas student numbers, with one possible pilot scheme suggesting international students from ‘high risk’ countries could be fined should they overstay their visas.

The report states the government has reformed the visa system to safeguard genuine international students and prevent wider abuse of the system. However, it also acknowledges that ‘misunderstandings’ remain about overseas students’ right to remain in the UK after graduation.   

In a statement released to the press, Dandridge echoed these fears, warning: “Visa procedures should be implemented in a way that is consistent with the strategy’s commitment to growing international student numbers. Students and talented academics will go elsewhere if they do not feel welcome.”