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One in six international students in UK start their course overseas

New research has found that one in six international students in the UK came to the country as a result of UK universities’ offshore campuses and partnerships.

The study from Universities UK International (UUKi) and the British Council, based on data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, found that around 15,000 of all first-degree overseas students in the UK in 2018-19 came through either UK university programmes delivered outside the country or credit recognition agreements. 

China and Malaysia constitute the largest numbers, with over a third of Chinese students and two-fifths of Malaysian students coming through these pathways.

In comparison, only 10% of new undergraduates coming to the UK from the European Union came through these offshore partnerships, according to the report “Transnational routes to on-shore UK higher education”.

Transnational students make up 21% of new international students at lower-tariff institutions, but just 12% at high-tariff ones. This gap is considerably smaller than in previous years.

58% of transnational entrants arrive in the second year of their course and they tend to remain in the UK for two or more years, but a minority only stay for one year of their course.

The report also claimed that student mobility to UK campuses is often a key rationale in building university academic partnerships and programmes abroad, but the payoffs can be poorly understood due to a lack of data.

Transnational routes to onshore recruitment have the benefits of offering greater flexibility, the ability to earn both UK and local qualifications, and the chance for those who could not afford to study an entire overseas degree to experience university education in the UK

– Eduardo Ramos

Matt Durnin, global head of insights and consultancy at the British Council and author of the report, said that due to the coronavirus pandemic disrupting student mobility, it is likely that there will be “greater demand for UK programmes delivered offshore”, but universities might also “turn a more critical eye towards the financial sustainability of their global activities”.

Eduardo Ramos, head of transnational education at UUKi and a key contributor to the report, added that the research shows the diversity of ways in which UK universities recruit international students.

Ramos said: “Transnational routes to onshore recruitment have the benefits of offering greater flexibility, the ability to earn both UK and local qualifications, and the chance for those who could not afford to study an entire overseas degree to experience university education in the UK. 

“We may see expansion of this type of route in countries where these benefits become more relevant.”

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