Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Own Goals, Missed Chances: Opinion

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Own Goals, Missed Chances: Opinion

Article excerpt

New data suggest UK's mixed messages on immigration are aiding competitors elsewhere, says Nicola Dandridge.

Australia is grateful to the UK for its immigration policy, a former education minister for the state of Victoria recently declared. In Phil Honeywood's eyes, our approach to immigration has done no end of good to Australia's drive to recruit more international students.

Whether or not this perception of the UK's immigration system is justified, there can be no doubt that the message we have been projecting about our attitude towards international students has been at best unclear and at worst unwelcoming.

Of late, there have been many claims and counterclaims about the precise impact of the government's immigration policy on the number of international students coming to the UK. But until now this debate has been dogged by a lack of up-to-date and reliable data. This has allowed for some complacency about the situation with many pointing to Universities and Colleges Admissions Service data that look only at numbers applying - not actually enrolling - and only at undergraduate- level study.

In order to address this information gap, this week Universities UK has released the results of a survey of trends in international student recruitment. With responses received from 116 institutions across the UK, these data provide the most comprehensive overview of the situation available.

The results suggest that new enrolments - the clearest indicator of future numbers - have remained virtually flat this year: at the institutions responding to our survey, overall student numbers (including students who have been in the UK for several years) have increased by about 3 per cent. This suggests that we are starting to head in the wrong direction, especially in the context of rising international student numbers globally. A good point of comparison would be the US, where international student numbers increased by 5.7 per cent in 2011-12.

We have also seen dramatic falls in enrolments from specific countries, particularly India - from where new entrants fell by more than 2,300, according to the survey's respondents.This is in addition to the 32 per cent decline in the number of first-year Indian students in the previous year. …

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