University leaders were warned about the potential impact on the UK economy of government changes to dependent visas during the recent QS higher education festival in London.
Matteo Quacquarelli, director of strategy and analytics for QS, outlined the current position of strength for the UK in an increasingly competitive global marketplace for international student recruitment but made it clear that stakeholders cannot ‘shy away’ from the potential impact of visa changes.
In March 2023, QS undertook a pre-emptive pulse survey of 5,000 international students who were interested in studying in the UK to ask them what their reaction would be to any proposed changes to student visa regulations including the right to bring dependants with them.
The QS survey reflected ‘exactly’ what the home secretary was proposing about restricting legal migration and asked students for their immediate response in reaction to those proposals.
Some 56% of respondents had previously been unaware of any proposed changes before QS surveyed them.
The results showed one in four international students said that they would be less likely to consider the UK as a study destination and one in five students who were focused on Russell Group universities said that they would be dissuaded from their original study plans.
A further 22% of students who responded to the QS survey also said that they saw the proposed policy change as ‘discriminatory’.
Quacquarelli emphasised that any loss of market share by the UK would quickly be gained by a competitor destination, with QS modelling a 12% average increase in interest in the US, Australia and Canada as a result of restrictions to the UK.
“This is not only impacting the supply to the UK market, but we’ll be passing that out to other destinations,” said Quacquarelli.
“Taking the recent HEPI analysis on the contribution of international students. We’ve formulated a number of different scenarios, with the worst case being [the changes] could cost the UK up to £10 billion.”
A recent report compiled by Universities UK International, HEPI and Kaplan International Pathways, revealed that international students boosted the country’s economy by £41.9bn in the academic year 2021/22.
The scenarios projected by QS suggest a total reduction of 200,000 international students coming to the UK by 2025.
Nigeria is the third largest source market for international students coming the the UK and also has the largest number of dependants connected to the student route visa, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.
Dependant numbers doubled in 2022, and the second largest source country overall for international students in the UK – India – brought a large number of dependants in 2022.
Despite the announcement by the Home Office on banning dependants, the UK government has reiterated its commitment to the international education strategy through the Departments for Business and Trade and for Education maintaining the target of attracting 600,000 international students to the UK each year.
QS, which undertakes the QS World University Rankings and the world’s largest international student survey, was also able to provide some other powerful insights into the potential for universities to diversify their student populations.
It revealed that 23 different countries appeared in lists of the ‘top 10’ source countries for the UK, US, Australia and Canada. Outside of China and India, each destination has a distinctive list of source countries that differ from one another.
As a result, the UK generates only 26,000 enrolments from the highest growth source markets of its main competitors. The same markets delivered over 275,000 enrolments to US, Canada and Australia.
US growth enabler markets were Mexico, Canada and Brazil, Canada’s were Philippines, Mexico and Iran, and Australia’s were Thailand, Nepal, Colombia and Brazil.
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