Has government hurt education exports?

University students

One of the UK's great global competitive strengths is in education, which contributes around £10bn a year in export earnings.

Which is useful at a time when the gap between our earnings from the rest of the world, and what we pay to the rest of the world, has been widening.

So it may be mildly concerning that the number of overseas entrants to British higher education declined in 2012-13 - which is the first numerical fall in 29 years (back in 1983-1984, there were fewer than 50,000 foreigners registered in full-time education in English universities, compared with more than 300,000 today).

Between 2010-11 and 2012-13, there was a fall of 1000 - or 1% - in the number of international entrants to full-time post-graduate programmes, compared with double-digit annual growth for years and years.

The change is statistically significant.

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The structure of UK courses makes English universities particularly vulnerable to further falls in overseas enrolment in the near term”

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What's gone wrong?

Well, according to a study by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, students from the rest of the EU have been put off by the rise in tuition fees, while those from outside the EU, especially Indians and Pakistanis, have been deterred by new visa rules.

The changes in the flows of students from different countries are striking.

There was a 9% fall in enrolments for undergraduate courses from Nigeria, an 11% fall from Pakistan, a 13% drop from India and a 15% decline from Saudi Arabia.

For post-graduate courses, the biggest declines were 39% for Iran, 26% for India, and 20% for Pakistan.

The question is whether the UK is warding off security threats and future claims on the welfare state, by repelling students from these countries, or whether we are undermining entente with tomorrow's foreign leaders and simultaneously depriving ourselves of jolly useful earnings from abroad.

And to reinforce the idea that these trends are not trivial, entrants to English universities from India and Pakistan have halved since 2010 - while entrants from the rest of the EU to undergraduate courses in England fell by almost a quarter in the past academic year.

Here is what is perhaps particularly troubling - the structure of UK courses makes English universities particularly vulnerable to further falls in overseas enrolment in the near term.

The relevant point is that English courses tend to be shorter than those at universities abroad - which means that just to keep numbers up, English universities have to find replacements for more than half of all overseas students every year, compared with just a third in Germany.

So if, for whatever reason, foreign students en masse decided England was not the place for them, there could be a sudden and painful financial shock for the English higher education system.

And as another illustration of why this matters, around three quarters of all entrants to postgraduate masters courses in 2012-2013 came from outside the UK - post-graduate departments in England are hugely dependent on foreign students and foreign earnings.

What is really striking is that one nation, China, is almost as important to the funding of post-graduate education in England as England itself.

A staggering 23% of all entrants to post-graduate masters courses in 2012-2013 came from China, compared with 26% from the UK.

And as enrolments from India and Pakistan declined, a remarkable 28,930 Chinese people enrolled last year for post-graduate courses in England, a rise of 9% (and the total numbers of new entrants exceed 30,000, if Hong Kong citizens are included).

Including undergraduates, the total number enrolling from China last year was not far off 50,000.

There are some post-graduate course utterly dominated by the Chinese - they represent 58% of all entrants for post-graduate maths, 56% for media studies (which is intriguing, given that China is not exactly famous for having a free press), 47% for business, 39% (predictably) for engineering, 37% for both chemistry and architecture, and 35% for the creative arts.

There are three ways to look at those Chinese stats.

They show that post-graduate English education is that rare thing - an industry winning an important share of the huge and growing Chinese market (so hooray).

Or they show that we are naively training Chinese people to eat our economic lunch, and further stunt our economic growth in years to come.

Or we are training the enriching young Chinese how to enjoy a decadent life in the creative arts and media - and they'll soon lose their appetite for industrial warfare (big hooray).

Robert Peston Article written by Robert Peston Robert Peston Economics editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 259.

    @258. All for All "need for individuals also to be 'representative'"

    Why posit such a need? So long as the "jury" (committee) is fair and free from conflicts of interest, its greater diversity would be a bonus we might aspire to more than its representative character. MPs selected by lot may more easily serve their constituents and the nation without conflicting party loyalties.

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    "how are we not equal partners"

    Far away from post-graduate selection, but for a jury-of-twelve, use of stratified sampling might improve 'community representation', but if taken to be critical then anxieties &/or complications might become onerous from jury challenge & juror drop-out. Academic given need for individuals also to be 'representative', necessarily secure equal partners

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    @251 All for All "tried out in a primitive setting"

    Such as in our criminal courts?

    Well, one may "allow one's name to go forward", I suppose, but any aspiration for power should arouse suspicion. The lottery seems the ideal destination, towards which we may slowly progress. And within this easily achievable framework, how are we not all "equal partners"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.

    255 AfA "We look to courageous youth across the world"

    hear, hear

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    Tearsoverintegrity @252
    "My fear
    losing democracy"

    During my 'years at the coal-face', trust died but slowly - 'knowledge' too scant maybe - that Britain with the Mother of Parliaments (disputed I know) would before too long become midwife to real democracy, our equal partnership agreed at home, happy example set beyond any 'resistance'. Post-MT & TB, we look to courageous youth across the world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    "Or they show that we are naively training Chinese people to eat our economic lunch, and further stunt our economic growth in years to come."

    It's very simple Robert, if we don't trade them, someone else will.

    == pls forgive Rob's simplistics, I am still waiting for his new article: How the UK universities fool the Chinese students (to study here)?

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.

    The UK universities are making the most from non-EU overseas students particularly of those Chinese students as their parents sent their only child to study here with a pile of cash which help a lot to compensate the financial loss due to the bloody gov's cut cut cut to the educational budget, meantime, these students help British student lift the standard of such as maths....

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    232 "and there is the nub of UKIP types. They are much older than the average Brit, and lash out thoughtlessly against a modern world they have no intention of ever trying to understand"

    This time around, I am a "UKIP type"
    Because my fear is in losing democracy for the next generation
    Once democracy is lost we have no safe way of putting things right when they start to go off course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    Grounder @250
    "outlaw self-selection"

    Not sure! Pitt the Younger necessarily was invited (at just 24) to become Prime Minister, but his entry to politics was by his own intent. Let's not be hasty!

    Random selection might serve (perhaps with freedom to decline) given agreed equal partnership, but tried out in a primitive setting could lead again to nest-feathering and Madame Guillotine

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    @249. All for All "representation - and so democracy - need not, should not, cannot 'depend' on election"

    There we may agree. I would go further and outlaw self-selection. Let the juries be selected randomly from among the most competent, where there is neither lawful excuse nor conflict of interest... But are not FPC, MPC, OBR and "OfAll" tentative steps in the right direction?

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    Grounder @244

    Students two centuries ago could have opined: "may be some truth" in what's said about rotten boroughs, but on the hand look at Sir Robert Peel: 24 on the roll & elected unopposed. Let's not be hasty!

    As from "All for All" should be apparent, representation - and so democracy - need not, should not, cannot 'depend' on election. Cream will rise. Not to be corrupted in the process!

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    "Or they show that we are naively training Chinese people to eat our economic lunch, and further stunt our economic growth in years to come."

    It's very simple Robert, if we don't trade them, someone else will.

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    The central issue is the fee not the nationality of the student paying it.
    As well as being morally outrageous the jacking up of fees is the act of an economic imbecile.

    For many graduates it will be cant pay or wont pay. Stacks will be written off creating more debt for future generations.

    If graduates really do earn tons with their wondrous new degrees they can pay it back in tax.

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    "The question is whether the UK is warding off security threats and future claims on the welfare state, by repelling students from these countries"

    Not sure if there is a strong link between postgrads and security threats? However I very much doubt the limit of ambition for all these ultra bright foreign PhD students is to claim dole and live in a bedsit in Manchester...

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    Overseas students became financially central to universities back in the Thatcher years. It's now universal: Australian tertiary education depends, too, on Asian students. The 'benefits-claiming terrorist' argument is spurious. Academics penalised for refusing to mark up humanities students with little English point to the real ethical problems reveal this state of affairs creates.

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    @240 All for All "expectations of advantage"

    Rich boys become MPs for fun and poor girls are in it for the money? There may be some truth in that, but how much? Growing up accustomed to wealth and privilege, or repeatedly convinced of their powers of persuasion, are not many (or most) eager to make a difference not mainly for themselves but for constituency, party, nation and even humanity?

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    Grounder @238
    "who is to blame"
    The messenger?

    Wide the range of evil, in deed & person, the two complexly related, even in City & Sobibor excuses no doubt for blind-eye or complicity

    If we fail to acknowledge the forces acting upon us, if we allow the sheer scale of our own advantage to make us turn away, mistaking the call of equality as of folly or irresponsibility, we invite 'demonisation'

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    "174.GideonsBible "
    We need to support home grown talent such as scientists and give them free education: Not keep down the fees so that idiots can get a degree. Stop dumbing down

    they'd be virtually no science degrees without foreign students, their fees kept the courses going in the days of grants & still do with UK fees too low to cover the costs of these expensive courses

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    "lose their appetite for industrial warfare (big hooray)."

    This is an unwarranted rude comment about Chinese students. I've never met one with an appetite for industrial warfare. I hope this comment is removed as soon as possible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    "teach self-interest"

    Often explicit (at peril of personal as well as wider relations), for most hardly conscious, inequalities of 'recognition' once taken for granted are now probematic. Principles of service are faithfully relayed, taken still to heart, but the lie is given to 'in it together' grappling with fortune & choice: expectations of advantage 'too often' dictate our course


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