According to figures released by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), applications from Hong Kong and Chinese students for universities in the UK have increased over the past year. University applications from these regions have nearly doubled since 2012.
Record numbers of Chinese students
The total number of applications from China and Hong Kong rose to 21,000 in 2018 compared to 17,000 the previous year. Though applications from the UK declined by 1 percent, international applications grew by about 9 percent. As a consequence, British universities saw a jump in total applications for the first time in three years.
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This rise in interest from Chinese students has come as a relief for British universities, which face extreme uncertainties due to the Brexit situation. “‘In this time of uncertainty, it’s welcome news to see more EU and international students wanting to come and study in the UK,” Clare Marchant, UCAS Chief Executive, said to The Guardian.
In fact, universities from the UK are said to have redoubled their efforts to recruit overseas students, especially from countries like China. This stems from the fact that many universities are facing a funding crunch. If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the British universities will stop receiving almost US$1.67 billion of EU research funding. The number of student applications from Europe will also decline, putting the educational institutions at even greater risk. Only by recruiting more Chinese students and other international students can the universities offset their financial challenges.
The drive to recruit more Asian students is also driven by the fact that international students pay more in tuition fees than the locals. As such, the university can earn more by filling up their benches with international students rather than those from the UK. For instance, while a student from China or India might spend more than US$38,000 for a 5-year medical degree, a student from the UK only spends about US$11,900, since their fees are capped.
Exeter University is reportedly looking to increase the proportion of international students by around 7 percent. University College of London is said to be more ambitious, wanting to boost overseas student numbers by a massive 50 percent, while reducing the share of UK students.
Visa rules relaxed to attract more Chinese students and other international students
The UK government has also relaxed certain visa rules to attract more Chinese students and other international students. A white paper released last year titled The UK’s future skills-based immigration system allowed students who finished their bachelor’s and master’s degrees to enjoy a post-study leave for a period of six months. For Ph.D. students, the leave was fixed at one year. This was done to give the students more time to find skilled permanent work.
“We do not propose to lower standards in the study route, which is working well after the reforms that stopped the unacceptably high levels of immigration abuse encountered a decade ago by non-genuine students. Individuals must demonstrate that they are a genuine student, meet English language and maintenance requirements, and have a proven academic track record,” the report states.
Prior to the new rules, graduate students from outside Europe only had four months to find a job. Within this time period, they had to find an employer who was willing to sponsor their switch from a general student visa to a general work visa.