Overseas student decline challenge for Welsh universities

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Media captionDaphne Chook had not heard of Cardiff before she came from Malaysia to study for a Masters degree in 2013.

There has been a decline in the number of non-EU international students attending Welsh universities.

According to Universities Wales, there were 16.2% fewer people from nations outside the EU studying here in 2015/16 compared with 2013/14.

Their research claims the decline is equivalent to a loss of £59.8m to the Welsh economy.

It comes as Education Secretary Kirsty Williams prepares to visit Vietnam to help boost Wales as a place to study.

The figures show little change in the number of international students from EU countries in the two years up to 2015/16, which was prior to the EU referendum.

The biggest decline has been in the number of students from south Asia, particularly India and Bangladesh.

One of the reasons is attributed to visa issues although the drop in Indian students in the whole of the UK has been much less marked than in Wales.

Universities Wales, which represents higher education institutions, hopes the reduction in non-EU international students will be offset by the "proactive work of the Welsh Government and Welsh universities".

Prof Iwan Davies, senior pro-vice chancellor at Swansea University and chairman of Global Wales, said: "It's true there has been a slight decline in numbers - around 16% - that's a reflection of the fact in Wales we have a significant number [of students] from south Asia."

He said it reflected a "turbulent time for international student recruitment" and also showed the need for Wales to diversify more.

Universities Wales maintains that "international students bring immense cultural, social and economic benefits to Wales".

  • 22,190 international students studied at Welsh universities during 2015/16, a combination of 5,460 individuals from EU countries excluding the UK, and 16,730 from outside the EU
  • They make up 17% of the total number of students in Wales - 13% are those from outside the EU
  • The largest cohort of international students is from Asia (44%), followed by the EU (25%), Africa (11.3%) and the Middle East (12.5%)
  • The chart above shows how the number of non-EU students has increased slightly in England and Scotland but fallen in Wales

Universities Wales commissioned research of the economic impact of international students. It reveals during the 2015/16 academic year, the group generated £716m of Welsh output, and created £372m of Welsh GVA (Gross Value Added) through expenditure.

The analysis, which was conducted by higher education consultants Viewforth, further claims their impact even created 1,598 jobs in areas of the country without the presence of a university.

Kirsty Williams' trade and education mission to Vietnam is part of the Global Wales initiative, which aims to boost student recruitment and research collaboration and to promote Welsh universities internationally.

Both Vietnam and the USA are the initiative's priority markets.

Ms Williams said the report demonstrated "that the strength of Welsh universities in attracting students from all over the world to study here brings both social and economic value to our campuses and communities, with international students making a significant contribution to the wider Welsh economy".

Plaid Cymru has called for the Welsh Government to have devolved powers over student visas.

"I want Wales to be able to target the best and brightest students to study here, to contribute their invaluable skills to our universities and to our economy," said the party's education spokesman, Llyr Gruffydd.

CBI Wales director Ian Price said international students brought new ideas, important skills and links to networks around the world.

"These links will become even more crucial in a post-Brexit economy," he said.

"It is vital that the government and local community look at how they can support the Welsh universities' international work to ensure that they can continue to help the country thrive."

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