More International Students Applying to UK Universities

With tuition fees hiked for the 2012-2013 school year, many universities in the United Kingdom experienced lower enrollment. But The Telegraph reports that for applications for next fall are up again in spite of predictions that the higher fees would permanently dampen enrollment. Graeme Paton explains that the increase in applications seems mostly driven by interest from students who might not usually have applied to British universities.

Applications turned in by the mid-January deadline show a 10% increase over last year. Among British students, applications rose among the poorer households who can seek financial assistance. Applications among the top 20% of British households did not increase over last year.

But it’s the poorer nations in the world that have really opened the taps on applications. Malaysia, for example, sent significantly more applications, as did China and Hong Kong.

This fact has surprised many observers, since at the same time, visa and immigration rules were tightened to prevent abuse of university application as a way to enter the country. Mark Harper, the UK’s Immigration Minister, cheered the positive development, citing it as evidence that UK education continues to exert a strong attraction for world students:

“We have tackled abuse of the student route head on — without affecting genuine students. By protecting the reputation of the British education system we will be able to compete in a global race.”

Raising fees in the university system was a controversial step, with some predicting that universities would go empty. Compared to 2010, before the fee increase, last year’s applications did run lower by 4.8%. Although still lower than that past rate, applications from British students still increased by 2.8% (13,080 applicants) over last year.

University and government officials had always predicted that after adjusting to the fee increase, enrollment would stabilize again. Business Secretary Vince Cable views this year’s rates as support for their optimism:

“These encouraging figures confound the critics and pessimists who were predicting that the new system of student financing would deter young people from applying. What is especially striking is that students from poorer backgrounds are not put off from applying. Today’s figures – an all time high – clearly show they are not.”

Many are still worried that the government coalition’s decision to move the burden of paying for university onto students and their families, away from taxpayers, will have a negative impact. The National Union of Students warned that it’s still too early to tell, and that viewing the increase in enrollment as a victory for the government’s decision was unwarranted.

Some British students who have been discouraged from applying to nearby universities by the higher tuition were tempted to attend schools much farther away but more willing to give them assistance. New York University’s campus in Abu Dhabi was most aggressive, offering large scholarships and free transportation to the Middle East. Campuses on the continental US could not be as generous, but the American tradition of offering need-based and merit-based scholarships tempted some British students to alter their plans. Every year, more British students choose to take American college-application tests like the ACT and SAT, direct evidence of growing openness to the idea of pursuing higher education abroad.

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