Indian Student Enrollment in UK Universities Declines, Triggering Concerns

by Antariksh Singh

The allure of the United Kingdom as a destination for higher education among Indian students seems to be experiencing a downturn, as revealed by recent statistics released in London. The data, sourced from the UK Home Office and based on the Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures, presents a concerning picture, with over 21,000 fewer Master’s degree applicants from India compared to the previous year.

This decline, amounting to a 16 per cent drop in Indian student applicants over the year ending December 2023, is part of an overall 10 per cent fall in net migration compared to 2022. While this may seem like a positive development for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who has emphasized curbing migration, it rings alarm bells for universities reliant on international student fees.

According to the Home Office analysis, there were 116,455 sponsored study visa grants to main applicants of Indian nationality in the year ending March 2024, marking a significant decrease from the previous year. The majority of Indian students, around 81 per cent, choose the UK for Master’s level studies, and the recent decline primarily stems from fewer Indian nationals enrolling in Master’s programs.

This decline follows a visa crackdown earlier this year, restricting students from bringing their family dependents to the UK. It coincides with lobbying efforts from university vice-chancellors and diaspora groups urging the government to preserve the post-study work visa offer under the Graduate Route scheme, which is pivotal for Indian students considering their higher education options.

The Graduate Route scheme, offering an opportunity to gain work experience post-degree, has been a significant factor influencing Indian students’ decisions. Notably, Indian nationals constituted nearly half of the visas granted under this scheme in the year to March 2024.

The data also sheds light on the newly introduced India Young Professionals Scheme, with a quota of 3,000 visas annually, of which 2,105 were granted to Indian nationals up to March this year.

Furthermore, ONS statistics indicate that a substantial portion of immigration to the UK for work-related reasons originates from India and Nigeria, particularly in the Health and Social Care sector. Indian nationals continue to lead in Skilled Worker visa grants, reaffirming their prominence in the UK’s immigration landscape.

While Indian students represent a significant portion of international enrollments in UK universities, recent trends suggest a potential shift. The top five nationalities outside the EU contributing to long-term immigration flows into the UK reveal a diverse landscape, with India leading the tally.

As the ONS cautiously notes, the decline in net migration and visa applications may not signify a definitive trend yet, but it underscores the need for continued monitoring and potentially proactive measures to address the concerns of both students and educational institutions.

Antariksh Singh

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