Overseas student recruitment windfall for leading UK universities

Extraordinary growth in income caused by higher enrolments and post-Brexit fee uplifts bolsters finances of Russell Group institutions

January 18, 2023
Source: Getty

Double-digit growth in international student enrolments following the end of Covid travel restrictions led to multimillion-pound windfalls for many of the UK’s research-intensive universities, latest accounts show.

With British universities also able to charge higher tuition fees to students from the European Union for the first time in 2021-22, many Russell Group universities registered unprecedented rises in their annual income from overseas students – with the University of Southampton almost doubling its income from international students to £170 million in a single year, and King’s College London growing its international tuition fee income by £95 million since 2020-21.

The extraordinary growth was not, however, replicated across the entire 24-strong group of research-intensive institutions, with enrolments either flat or slightly down at some northern institutions, including the universities of Liverpool, Newcastle and Sheffield.

Some of the most dramatic rises in overseas student income came in London, where UCL saw its take from full-time international students rise from £440.8 million to £512.5 million – an increase of £71.7 million, or 16 per cent. That was slightly offset by a £20 million fall in income from “domestic” students in 2021-22, after EU learners were removed from this group and began to pay the same fees as students from outside the bloc.

At the London School of Economics and Political Science, overseas tuition income rose by £10.3 million to £153.5 million in 2021-22, a 7 per cent rise, while Imperial College London saw its international fee income rise by £44 million, an 18.5 per cent increase.

An even steeper rise occurred at Queen Mary University of London, which recruited an additional 3,019 international students in 2021-22 compared with the previous year, a 29 per cent rise, bringing the total to 13,451 and resulting in a £61 million increase in international fees.

At King’s, the £95 million increase came from international postgraduate taught and undergraduate numbers growing by 39 per cent and 21 per cent respectively in 2021-22.

Outside the capital, the University of Warwick’s international fee income rose by £40.7 million, or 21 per cent, to £235 million, the University of Exeter’s income spiked 33 per cent to £114 million, and the University of Manchester’s overseas student income increased by £50.5 million to £356.2 million, a 16.5 per cent rise.

Those numbers were eclipsed, however, by Southampton, whose full-time international student fee income rose from £85.5 million to £170 million in 2021-22. Southampton’s total of 7,504 full-time equivalent international students is markedly higher than the 5,430 registered in 2018-19.

The sector figures are likely to highlight the increasing reliance on international tuition fees, which were worth £7 billion to UK universities in 2020-21, roughly 17 per cent of total income, amid concerns over home secretary Suella Braverman’s plan to crack down on student visas.

Ben Moore, policy manager at the Russell Group, noted that while “international students generate important funds that are reinvested in our universities, alongside a range of wider cultural, social and economic benefits to the UK, deficits for domestic teaching and research are continuing to grow” and that “a new, sustainable funding system is critical to maintain quality and choice for students and allow UK universities to remain global R&D leaders”.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said revenues generated from international students were more important than ever given that domestic fees – £9,250 in England – often did not cover the cost of teaching.

“International student fees have always been important because they helped to subsidise the cost of research, but now they are needed to subsidise the teaching of home students,” said Mr Hillman.


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Reader's comments (3)

Are the figures for each Russell group university concentrated somewhere accessible online?
Good question- I thought that there would be a link to all Russell Group international student recruitment in this article.
Why is there no reporting of these figures outside the Russell Group?


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