Data deficiencies and negative rhetoric cause “suffering” for UK institutions

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Increasing financial challenges faced by international students in the UK the financial woes the sector will face if recruitment doesn’t diversify and damaging political rhetoric continues were also highlighted by the review.

“Recruitment structures need to evolve and diversify, both with country and pathway. For too long the UK has relied on certain markets, putting all their eggs in only a few baskets.

“Now with global shifts and national policy change, institutions are suffering,” UKCISA policy officer Iona Murdoch told The PIE News.

The annual policy review for 2023-2024 from the UK’s national body for international students highlighted the significant instability of recent years, with 2022 seeing five education secretaries, three ministers for higher education, and three prime ministers in two months.

Adding to this instability is a lack of data to guide policymakers, the report noted, with particular data deficiencies identified on graduate experience and progression on and from the Graduate route, according to Murdoch.

UKCISA’s review collated key updates, statistics and reports from a variety of sector sources but was missing the publication of HESA’s student data for 2022/23, which has been delayed. Updated figures are expected to be published in August.

For too long the UK has relied on certain markets, putting all their eggs in only a few baskets.

Iona Murdoch, UKCISA

The absence of sufficient data is in line with a recent IHEC report, which identified data pitfalls as an “urgent” issue across the sector.

“What was even more surprising was how little data there is on FE and pathway providers, an often forgotten-about area when it comes to data. Such a lack makes it difficult for the sector to improve their services and student experience,” said Murdoch.

The third edition of the annual report, released on June 6, included government immigration figures revealing a 37% drop in the number of student visas granted in 2023 Q4 compared to the previous year.

This decline in visas represents a significant decrease in the number of students coming to the UK for courses starting in January 2024, suggesting that government rhetoric and policies restricting international student numbers have started to take hold.

Nigeria and India showed particularly sharp declines of 63% and 43% respectively in Q4 of 2024.

Notably, the report points to the impact of the dependants ban for postgraduate taught students, increasing visa fees and the announcement of the Graduate Route review.

Furthermore, wider global issues such as the cost of living and changes to exchange rates, which impact on the value of local currencies against the pound are also creating challenges for international students, the report highlighted.

“With this in mind, it is important for institutions to have diversity as a recruitment aim and mitigate any dependence on certain countries. This will help mitigate any impacts that changing policies and global issues may have on specific sending countries,” UKCISA recommended.

According to UKCISA, non-EU international students are the only student group where undergraduate ‘value for money’ perceptions have recovered since the pandemic, with course content having rapidly improved in their minds since last year.

The report highlighted the price of accommodation and a lack of support from institutions helping students find accommodation as significant factors impacting their experience in the UK.

According to data evaluating EU students’ perceptions of the UK, 70% thought the price of accommodation was a very or extremely significant barrier, with the availability of accommodation and the cost of living also creating considerable challenges.

To the relief of the higher education sector, in May 2024 the government confirmed that the UK Graduate Route would not be axed or changed, providing a flexible post-study employment route for international graduates in the UK.

However, with a general election around the corner, stakeholders have warned that the sector is not out of the woods.

“We as a sector need to change how we do things,” said Murdoch.

“Students have a certain expectation when coming to the UK, and with so much recent pedagogical change and online learning, we must ensure that we are doing what we can to meet these expectations while also working to ensure the expectations are set at a reasonable level for the current offering.”

The review pointed to the merits of the Scottish government’s International Education Strategy, which sets out ambitions of enhanced branding of its strengths as a study destination, to attract international students and remain globally competitive.

It also emphasised the value of international students, whose total net impact on the UK economy was £37.4 billion in 2023-2024.

The post Data deficiencies and negative rhetoric cause “suffering” for UK institutions appeared first on The PIE News.

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