International Students in the United Kingdom between 2014/15 to 2021/22

The United Kingdom is among the world's most popular destinations for international students, regularly placing within the top three countries for hosting international students alongside the United States and Australia.[1][2] Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency indicates that students from the three countries of China, India, and Nigeria together account for just under 48% of all international students enrolled at higher education institutions in the UK.[3]

In 2019, the UK government's International Education Strategy set a target to recruit 600,000 international students in higher education and to increase the value of higher education exports to £35 billion by 2030.[4] The recruitment target was met ten years early and in the 2021/22 academic year, there were 679,790 international students studying at UK higher education institutions, equivalent to 24% of all higher education students in the UK – ranging from 16.8% in Wales to 27.4% in Scotland. This represented a 12.3% increase in international students from the previous year (2020/21: 605,130).[3] London Economics, a policy and economics consultancy, have estimated one first-year cohort of international students in 2018/19 to deliver £25.9 billion net benefit to the British economy over the course of their study.[5] They upgraded this figure to a net benefit of £37.4 billion for the 2021/22 academic year.[6] University College London's revenue from international tuition fees alone was worth over half a billion pounds – the equivalent of a third of the annual overseas earnings of the entire UK fishing industry.[7] This figure grew by about 25% to £640 million in the 2022/23 academic year.[8]

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) estimates that the number of international students will continue to increase with international applications to study at British universities expected to increase by 60%, from around 150,000 in 2022 to 240,000 in 2030.[9][10] As of 2023, 58 current world leaders have been educated at a higher education institution in the United Kingdom, second in the world only to the United States' 65.[11]


By sending countries and regions

The top 15 countries and regions sending students to the United Kingdom in 2021/22 are listed below.[3]

Rank Place of origin Number of Students Percent of Total
1  China 151,690 22.3%
2  India 126,535 18.6%
3  Nigeria 44,195 6.5%
4  Pakistan 23,075 3.4%
5  United States 22,990 3.4%
6  Hong Kong 17,630 2.6%
7  Bangladesh 12,700 1.9%
8  Malaysia 12,135 1.8%
9  France 11,870 1.7%
10  Italy 11,320 1.7%
11  Spain 10,330 1.5%
12  Germany 9,915 1.5%
13  Ireland 9,855 1.4%
14  Romania 8,915 1.3%
15  Saudi Arabia 8,750 1.3%
Others 182,495 26.8%
Total 679,970 100%

By number of International Students

The mainstream universities with the highest number of international students for 2021/22 are listed below:[12]

Rank Institution Number of International EU Students Number of International non-EU Students Total International Students
1 University College London 4,400 19,745 24,145
2 University of Manchester 2,450 15,725 18,170
3 University of Edinburgh 3,570 14,480 18,050
4 University of Glasgow 2,595 14,795 17,390
5 King's College London 3,840 13,310 17,155
6 Coventry University 2,355 15,656 15,565
7 University of Hertfordshire 785 12,445 13,230
8 University of the Arts London 2,340 9,720 12,060
9 Ulster University 1,300 10,745 12,045
10 Imperial College London 2,720 8,600 11,320

By proportion of International Students

The mainstream universities with the highest proportion of international students for 2021/22 are listed below:[12]

Rank Institution Number of International Students Percent of Student Body
1 London School of Economics 8,520 65.7%
2 University of the Arts London 12,060 53.7%
3 Imperial College London 11,320 52.7%
4 University College London 24,145 51.6%
5 University of St Andrews 5,425 45.9%
6 University of Edinburgh 18,050 43.8%
7 University of Hertfordshire 13,230 41.4%
8 King's College London 17,155 41.3%
9 Coventry University 15,565 40.8%
10 University of Glasgow 17,390 40.5%

Graduate route for international students

See also: Immigration policy of the United Kingdom

On 14 October 2019, the Home Office confirmed that graduates of the country's higher education institutions will be eligible for the two-year Graduate Route visa from summer 2021.[13]

In July 2020, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy revealed that international students who complete a PhD from Summer 2021 can stay in the UK for 3 years after study to live and work with the Graduate Route visa, as opposed to 2 years for undergraduate and postgraduate students.[14] The UK Home Office also confirmed that dependants of postgraduate international students with a Graduate Route post study work visa from 2021 will retain leave to remain and the right to work in the UK provided they were in the country with them during the international student's postgraduate studies.[15]

Economic impact of students

A study published in 2023 by Universities UK International (UUKi), the Higher Education Policy Institute and Kaplan International Pathways in collaboration with London Economics, has found that the economic impact of international students has risen steadily from £31.3 billion in 2018/9 to £41.9 billion in 2021/22. International students were found to make the greatest impact in the cities of Glasgow, London, Sheffield, Nottingham and Newcastle.[6]

According to data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency for the 2021/22 academic year, higher education institutions in the UK received tuition fees and contracts worth £9.99 billion from international students (£1.06 billion from EU students and £8.93 billion from non-EU students). International tuition fees made up the largest proportion of tuition fees income at the following mainstream universities with all ancient universities of Scotland and London members of the Golden triangle featuring:[16]

Rank Institution Total non-UK fees (£m) Total tuition fees income (£m) Non-UK fees as % of tuition fees income
1 University of Glasgow 290,304 380,717 76.3%
2 Imperial College London 301,355 423,195 71.2%
3 University of St Andrews 96,539 137,407 70.3%
4 University College London 543,844 778,553 69.9%
5 University of Edinburgh 341,988 496,955 68.8%
6 University of Aberdeen 61,808 89,923 68.7%
7 London School of Economics 180,270 265,772 67.8%
8 University of the Arts London 206,757 326,337 63.4%
9 University of Manchester 394,981 638,205 61.9%
10 King's College London 369,904 610,493 60.6%

Controversies and concerns

Over reliance on students from China

The United Kingdom remains one of the most desirable countries for Chinese students looking to study abroad, ahead of the USA, Australia, and Canada.[17] This has led to students from mainland China making up significant proportions of international students at some universities: Southampton: 60.5%; RCA: 59.8%; Sheffield: 57.8%; York: 56.2%; Birmingham: 50.3%; and Manchester: 49.9%.[18] In 2021/22, Southampton doubled its income from international students to £170 million in just one year.[19] Research from the centre-right think tank Onward has estimated that the average university makes 7% of their total fee income from China-domiciled students, with 16 universities (mainly Russell Group) receiving more than a fifth of their fee income from China-domiciled students.[20] There are concerns that universities are becoming overly reliant on international students from China for financing and increasing geopolitical shifts between China and the United Kingdom may lead to a sudden drop in recruitment.[21] Adam Habib, Director of SOAS, has argued that the majority of universities in the United Kingdom will be severely impacted financially in this event.[22] In response, the university sector is aiming to diversify its intake and has been targeting emerging markets in India, South Asia and Nigeria.[23] In 2022, for the first time, more study visas were issued to Indian nationals than Chinese nationals.[24]

Net migration and dependants

In 2022, Suella Braverman, then Home Secretary of the United Kingdom, wanted to curb the number of international students and in particular, the number of dependants on student visas.[25] The number of dependants accompanying international students granted visas had increased eight-fold in three years to 135,788 in 2022, with Nigerian and Indian nationals bringing the most dependants. In 2015, dependants from the two countries accounted for 11% of all dependants, at around 1,500 individuals. By 2022, this grew to over 100,000 individuals, representing about 73% of all dependants. Nigerian nationals had a main applicant to dependency ratio exceeding one – 10 tens times the rate for all other countries except for India.[26] In 2022/23, 60,923 dependants accompanied 59,053 Nigerian students and 38,990 dependants accompanied 139,539 Indian students.[27] In the previous year, 34,031 Nigerian students arrived in the United Kingdom with 31,898 dependant visas issued alongside them, in contrast, 114,837 Chinese students arrived in the same period with only 401 dependant visas issued alongside them.[28] Local reporting in Nigeria has credited the growth in students and dependants to the broader movement of 'Japa', a Yoruba term meaning 'to scarper' Nigeria, with no intention of returning due to the country's problem with corruption and poor governance.[29][30] Reporting from the BBC suggested that some Nigerians are willing to study for degrees they do not need in order to have a 'stepping stone' into the UK with the prospect of free education for their dependants in the UK preferable to paying for private education in Nigeria.[31][32]

Braverman faced opposition to these plans from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Keegan and the Science Minister, George Freeman who were concerned that this may damage the prospects of the country's 'science superpower' ambitions.[33] In May 2023, the Home Office announced plans to restrict the ability to bring dependants to only postgraduate courses designated as research programmes, effective from January 2024.[34] As the new restrictions came into place, exemptions were also extended to courses with government-funded scholarships.[35]

Use of agents

The Observer reported in 2023 that UK universities were spending millions of pounds on agents fees, with universities that provided data in response to freedom of information requests typically reporting fees of between £2,000 and £8,000 per student. The University of Greenwich paid more than £28.7 million to recruit almost 3,000 postgraduate and 500 undergraduate students, while De Montfort University paid £17.1 million to recruit almost 4,500 students.[36]

The report also highlighted that there were ethical concerns around agents, with the general secretary of the Indian National Student Association, a representative body for Indian students in the UK, saying that agents had tried to direct students onto certain courses by offering incentives, regardless of whether these were a good choice for the student. Former universities minister Jo Johnson also warned that unethical agents that falsified visa paperwork could put universities' licences at risk.[36]

In order to address ethical concerns, the UK Agent Quality Framework, administered by the British Universities International Liaison Association, was launched in 2022.[37] A formal 'universities pledge' to follow the framework was introduced in 2023 and signed initially by 28 institutions, including Bangor University, Durham University, the University of East Anglia, the University of Edinburgh and the University of Ulster.[38]


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