The number of Indian students coming to the UK has risen for the first time in recent years after a steady downward spiral, figures released on Thursday by the Higher Education Statistics Agency showed.
From a high of 39,090 students in 2010-11 to a low of 16,550 in 2016-17, the number is on the upswing with 19,750 in 2017-18, according to HESA.
The data shows that the United Kingdom is still not the most preferred choice of Indian students but the perception that the country does not welcome international students may be shifting slowly.
Indian and other non-EU students typically pay at least three times the fees applicable to those from the UK or European Union. Several stakeholders have published research in recent years on the multi-billion-pound contribution to the UK’s economy made by international students.
HESA figures show that China sent more students to the UK than any other country. In 2017-18; 106,530 or one-third of all non-EU students were from China.
“Student numbers from India declined from 39,090 in 2010/11 to 16,550 in 2016/17. In 2017/18, for the first time this rose to 19,750, the same level it had been at in 2013/14”, HESA said.
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“Immigration statistics published by the Home Office in November 2018, which compare the year ending September 2018 with the year ending September 2017, also noted a rise in sponsored study visas granted to Indian nationals (up 33% to 18,735)”, it added.
Vivienne Stern, Director, Universities UK International (UUKi) said: “Indian students are a vital part of the international university communities that we are so proud of in the UK. Indian students bring diverse perspectives to our campuses, new ideas to our classrooms and essential skills to our workforce. It is fantastic news for the UK that the number of Indian students coming to our country appears to be on the rise. We hope to see these numbers continue to grow over coming years.”
The new figures suggest that the increase in Indian student numbers is at the postgraduate level. The largest drop was for vocational courses, mainly due to the closure of several bogus colleges, which were recruiting non-EU students for non-academic purposes.
A major reason for Indian students staying away from the UK in recent years has been the closure in 2012 of the post-study work visa, which was popular among self-financing pupils. It is unlikely to be re-introduced anytime soon, but there has been some recent relaxation.
A visa pilot running at 27 universities allows Indian and other non-EU students more time to find employment after completing their studies, while another relaxation will allow taking up employment after course completion, without waiting for the degrees to be awarded.
International students are increasingly on the Brexit agenda. According to the new system to come into effect from 2021, international students at the postgraduate and undergraduate levels will be able to stay for six months after completing their courses to find work. Those completing PhD will have a year to do so.
“We will also allow for students studying at bachelor’s level or above to be able to apply to switch into the skilled workers route up to three months before the end of their course in the UK, and from outside of the UK for two years after their graduation”, the white paper released in December said.
There is a growing demand that international students should not be counted as immigrants after official reports belied claims that many non-EU students do not return after completing studies.
However, Prime Minister Theresa May has so far rejected such demands.