LONDON: The UK is being outstripped by countries like Australia and Canada in attracting Indian students to their universities and action must be taken to prevent the falling numbers, a senior peer and academic has told the House of Lords.
Lord Philip Norton, chair of the UK's Higher Education Commission, raised the issue in Parliament yesterday as he warned that the country's higher education export success story was under threat.
An increase in enrolment by Chinese students has masked a fall in students coming from other nations, not least India.
Since 2006-07, there has been a 45 per cent fall in enrolment by Indian students unless action is taken, we will see our competitors further outstrip us," said the Conservative party peer and professor of government at the University of Hull.
Norton also warned that the UK's heavy dependence on Chinese students was not sustainable as the population of 18 to 22-year-olds in China is set to decline.
He pointed to the inclusion of students in the government's annual migration targets and a change in the country's post-study work visa regime as key factors that had put the UK at a considerable disadvantage in the international education market.
His intervention came as a new paper released by University College London's Centre for Global Higher Education (CGHE) this week found that the UK is likely to lose its position as the second most popular destination globally for international students, after the US, as it is overtaken by Australia.
What we are seeing is a seismic shift in the global student market.
UK higher education is still highly valued internationally, but the government has held down the growth of international student numbers for five years, by limiting new student numbers and post-study work visas, said CGHE Director Professor Simon Marginson, who released a paper based on UNESCO data.
Meanwhile, competitor nations are strongly promoting their international education, he said.
The research forms part of wider work being conducted by the Higher Education Commission to explore the government's target to hike the country's higher education exports to 30 billion pounds by 2020 from the current level of around 19 billion pounds.
Our research has found a direct co-relation between the change to the post-study visa regime in 2012 and the fall in enrolment figures from countries like India, said Pooja Kumari, Research Manager for Education and Skills at Policy Connect a cross-party think tank which administers the Higher Education Commission, an independent body made up of academics, parliamentarians and figures in business.
As the author of the commission's report on the UK's higher education sector to be released in September, Kumari agrees that the exclusion of India from a recently expanded list of countries offered a streamlined student visa application process would impact the figures further.
"It does send out a negative signal to Indian students and gives the impression that UK plc is closed for business. India's youth demographics are set to boom in the next 10 years. We need to be doing everything we can to ensure we do not lose out on that market share," she said.
The UK government has said that India did not meet the "required criteria" to be included on the expanded list, which includes countries like China and Mexico.
It has stressed that Indian students will experience no change in the service they receive when applying for a student visa and that there is no limit on the number of genuine Indian students who can come to study in the UK.
UK Foreign Office sources recently indicated that any decline in student numbers from India was directly related to a clampdown by the government on bogus colleges a few years ago.
"The figures for universities continue to climb, the others were not going to colleges they may have claimed they were students, but they were not," the source said.
However, Kumari said the latest research indicates that the decline is related more to changes in the government's visa strategy.
"We know that Indian students like to work for a few years after they have completed their education, to gain experience. While the UK has clamped down on that, Australia has enhanced its post-study visa offer, which would naturally make it more attractive to Indian students" she said.
Earlier this week, London Mayor Sadiq Khan wrote to UK home secretary Sajid Javid urging him to add India to the list of low-risk countries offered a more simplified student visa application process.
According to the London Mayor's office, the number of Indian students coming to the UK fell from a peak of nearly 24,000 a year in 2010-11 to a low of around 9,000 a year in 2015-16.
Khan attributed this decline to wider perception issues related to UK visas in India.
"I'm urging him (Sajid Javid) to both add India to the scheme and also to review the UK's broader approach to attracting international student talent, including post-study opportunities", he said.
The UK Home Office said it is "committed to a close relationship with India".
"The fact that last year saw a 30 per cent increase in Tier 4 (student) visas issued to Indian students is proof that the current system allows for strong growth in this area", a Home Office spokesperson said.