News: Surge in students studying for UK degrees abroad

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The number of students studying for UK degrees in overseas countries increased 13% last year, as universities focused their energies on international recruitment.

International offshoots of UK universities, partnerships with foreign institutions and online study mean there are now more students on UK university courses abroad than there are international and EU students coming to the UK to study.

Some 571,000 students studied abroad in 2011-12, a third more than in 2009-10, with universities enrolling most students in Malaysia, Singapore and Pakistan.

Oxford Brookes, which offers students training with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (Acca) the option to also study for a degree in applied accounting, recruited by far the most students overseas (251,990 or 44% of those studying UK degrees abroad). It was followed by the University of London (45,680), the Open University (42,685) and the University of Wales (16,250).

The rise in UK transnational educational – where students are located in a country different from the one where their awarding university is based – comes as the number of students from India and Pakistan studying in Britain fell for the first time last year. University leaders fear that new visa rules and negative rhetoric from government prompted the slump in enrollments.

By running courses overseas, UK universities can take their education to students who cannot make the trip to the UK, says Joanna Newman, director of the UK Higher Education International Unit.

“There will continue to be demand from students who want to study in the UK. Despite this year’s fall in applications from some countries, overall numbers are holding up. But if you look at the demographics of countries like Brazil and Indonesia, it’s always a very small proportion of their population that would make the trip to the UK.

“Most of their students need to be catered for in their own country – UK universities can do this by offering joint degrees and co-regulating.”

Such arrangements help universities boost their brand abroad, says Alex Bols, executive director of the 1994 Group, which represents smaller research-intensive universities.

“Opening an international campus is a way of developing a strong physical presence in other countries and attracting students to the UK.

“However,” he warns, “there are also major reputational risks if it goes wrong – both for the institution involved and for the sector more generally.”

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