In 2015/16 there were 438,000 overseas students studying at UK universities; 19% of the total student population. 127,000 were from the EU and 311,000 from elsewhere. In this post we look at the details behind these figures and answer some frequently asked questions.

How has this number changed over time?

Overseas student numbers increased 2003/04 to 2010/11 but subsequently plateaued.

Number increased 2003/04 to 2010/11 but subsequently plateaued
Where are they from?

Among 2015/16 first year students, around 62,100 were from China and around 10,500 were from the United States.

1) China; 2) US; 3) India; 4) Nigeria; 5) Malaysia; 6) Germany; 7) France; 8) Hong Kong; 9) Italy; 10) Greece

What are they worth to the UK?

Universities UK put the total value in 2014-15 at £25.8 billion. This includes direct spending by students on and off-campus, the ‘knock-on’ effect of this on the economy and the impact of visitors to the UK linked to international students.

How many UK students study abroad and where do they go?

In 2014 an estimated 1.5% of UK students were studying abroad. This was half the EU average and well below levels in Germany (4.5%) and France (3.5%). The most popular destinations for UK postgraduates were the US with 25% of those studying in other OECD countries, Germany (13%), Australia (6.5%) and France (5.7%).

What policies have contributed to the slowdown in the growth in overseas students?
Net migration target

It is Government policy to reduce net migration to the ‘tens of thousands’. Students who come to the UK for more than a year are ‘migrants’ under the UN definition and are included in the target.

Many bodies, including Universities UK, have campaigned to have them removed from the target. An IPPR report detailed the increased restrictions on international students and argued the case for removing them from the target.

A report by the Office for National Statistics said that some international students do not leave the UK when they should and this might provide a further reason for keeping students in the net migration target. The Prime Minister has specifically said that students will not be removed from the target.

Abolition of Post-Study Work Visa

In April 2012 the Tier 1 Post-Study Work Visa was abolished. This allowed students to stay on and work for two years after their studies. Government policy remains that ‘there is no limit’ to the number of student visas which can be issued, A report by the Higher Education Policy Institute said that this change in policy had resulted in a fall in enrolments at UK universities.


It has been suggested that Brexit vote has had an impact on student recruitment and some overseas students now perceive the UK as less welcoming. This is a concern as it has been shown that when choosing a destination, international students are highly motivated by how welcome they feel.

An article in the Financial Times in July 2016 stated that a survey by Hobson’s student recruitment consultancy had found that a third of international students said they would be less likely to come to the UK post Brexit

Which universities have the most overseas students?

In 2015/16 University College London had around 15,000 overseas students, the University of Manchester around 13,000 and the University of Edinburgh around 10,800.

1) UCL; 2) Manchester; 3) Edinburgh; 4) Coventry; 5) King's College London; 6) Sheffield; 7) Imperial; 8) University of the Arts; 9) Warwick; 10) Oxford

How many staff at universities are from overseas?

In 2015/16 there were 58,300 academic staff from overseas at UK universities; 29% of all academic staff. 33,700 were from the EU and 24,500 from elsewhere. Engineering & technology and the sciences had the highest overseas staff rates with 42% and 38% respectively.

What research income comes from the overseas?

Research income from the EU was worth £840 million to UK universities in 2015/16; 14% of total research income. Research income from all non-EU overseas sources was £438 million or 7% of all research income.

Non-EU fee income trebled in importance since mid-1990s

How much fee income comes from overseas?

Fees from non-EU students were worth £4.5 billion to UK universities in 2015/16; 12.8% of total income. There has been a sustained increase in this income over time (opposite).

What support is available for international students?

Only students categorised as home or EU students are eligible for publicly funded student support, there is no funding available for international students. Individual institutions however may provide scholarships for international students.

What support is available for EU students?

Under EU rules European students studying in another member state must be given the same access to higher education as local students. EU student have access to tuition fee loans on the same basis as UK students. EU students studying across the UK home countries will be treated the same as home students of that area.

Some EU students may be eligible for maintenance loans if they meet residency requirements.

How much do EU students take out in loans?

In 2015-16 £323 million was lent to EU students at English universities. This has increased in recent years particularly due to higher fees from 2012. An estimated 69% of eligible EU full-time undergraduates took out loans in 2014/15. EU students owed a total of £1.3 billion at the end of March 2016; less than 2% of the total outstanding loan debt.

Will the Government continue to fund EU students post Brexit?

Funding arrangements for EU students starting courses in up to 2018/19 will remain unchanged. Those assessed as eligible will receive support for the duration of their course. More detail is given on the Student Loans Company website.

How many students come to the UK on Erasmus?

30,200 ‘students’ came to the UK under the 2014 Erasmus+ ‘Call’. This includes those on traineeships as well as those studying at UK universities. The largest number came from France with 7,700, followed by Germany with 5,300 and Spain with 4,400.

How many UK students are on Erasmus and where do they study?

11,328 UK students were involved in the 2015 Erasmus+ ‘Call’ for studies in participating programme countries. In 2013/14 The most popular host countries for UK participants were France (2,818), Spain (2,453), Germany (1,332) and Italy (898).

Will Brexit affect the UK’s participation in the Erasmus?

This is uncertain and will depend on the outcome of exit negotiations with the EU.

For more detail and other FAQs see the briefing paper: International and EU students in higher education in the UK FAQs

Picture Credit: NTU Graduation by Nottingham Trent University; Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)