Government hits absurd target for 600,000 overseas students a decade early


June 27, 2022

  • 600,000 non-UK students enrolled at UK universities last year
  • Housing, services and transport face serious pressure in midst of a record 440,000 study visa grants in past year
  • There are suggestions the number of international undergraduate applicants will further rise by 2026
  • All-time high study immigration comes after research shows that four in ten students stay on in the UK Risk of study visa abuse in midst of much weaker controls
  • Three years ago, the government set a target to increase the number of international students enrolled at UK universities from 470,000 in 2017/18 to 600,000 by 2030.

Yet data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) show that the government has hit this target a decade early - with just over 600,000 non-UK students enrolled in UK universities in 2020/21.

In the midst of record study visa grants, Migration Watch UK is publishing a new briefing on the overseas student route (attached) warning that some communities, housing and services are facing serious pressure.

Study visas provide a major long-term immigration route into the UK - with around 130,000 people either staying on for further study or work after expiry of their initial study visa (in 2018/19) or for whom there was insufficient information to know what had happened to them.

The government was pressured by the higher education lobby into weakening study visa rules from 2017 in the midst of a barrage of misleading claims that 97% of overseas students departed the UK before their visa expired (see our summary).

Yet more recent analysis by the ONS indicates such a claim to be highly disingenuous.

This latter research - looking deeper into Home Office exit checks data - showed instead that around four in ten stay on.

Meanwhile, UCAS has forecast that the volume of international undergraduate applicants will increase by nearly 50% by 2026.

Commenting, Alp Mehmet, Chairman of Migration Watch UK, said:

The UK is in the midst of a huge rise in immigration of which the substantial increase in overseas students is a chief driver. The recent major loosening of student controls could mean the return of large-scale abuse that the government spent years cleaning up.

Instead of opening the gates even further, Ministers must bring immigration under control so as to ease pressure on communities, housing and services, and - above all - honour their pledge to reduce overall inflows.

Note to Editors

In 2020, the Home Office stated: "...The vast majority (97%) of those with Tier 4 visas expiring in the year ending March 2019, were known to have departed from the UK before their visa had expired."

Yet in its 2021 bulletin, the ONS noted: "Recent analysis... showed that 61% of non-EU students with a leave expiry date between 1 September 2018 and 31 August 2019 departed the UK."

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