International: climbing the wall of worry

International: climbing the wall of worry

The HE sector is good at finding plausible reasons to worry about the future strength of international UG recruitment. And, accordingly, universities do worry about it. Does the data for 2018 suggest those worries are being realised? Mark Corver takes a look.

A good proportion, over half, of the final total of ‘not EU’ (international) students are placed by UCAS by Scottish Results Day (SRD). It turns out that a combination of the number of placed, ‘holding offers’ and ‘free to be placed in clearing’ main scheme applicants at Scottish Results Day is (or rather, has been to this point) pretty good at predicting the final ‘End of Cycle’ totals.

The results of our forecast model using UCAS data (see is shown in the graph. The analysis suggests that the SRD total of 21,640 main scheme international accepts could climb to around 37,000 by the end of the 2018 cycle. An increase of around 1,600 (4.5%) on 2017. This would be the strongest increase since 2014, and another recruitment record for the sector.

Typically, UCAS will record another 4,000-5,000 international students who did not apply into the Main scheme, some through Direct to Clearing (around 600) but mostly hard-to-predict RPAs. If there is a similar number of these this cycle then the total UCAS recruitment would be around 42,000 (against just over 40,000 last year).

The strong forecast is driven in part by the increase in the numbers holding offers at this stage – and depends on those converting to placed students at a typical rate. For international students this decision typically rests with the student rather than the university, so worries about falling recruitment could still come true. We shall see over the next month or so. And, of course, these data don’t include PG or non-UCAS UG activity.

But overall it does look as if the sector has, once again, climbed a wall of worry about international recruitment to a good recruitment outcome. The data signals that international remains a strong market sector for UK HE, and being unduly pessimistic about future growth could lead to missed opportunities.