According to data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, in 2007-08 there were almost 200,000 ‘offshore students’ studying for UK degrees, thanks to the growth in popularity of distance-learning courses, overseas campuses and partnerships with foreign universities.
While so-called ‘transnational education’ is a money-spinner for the higher education sector, the concern is that overseas provision may be growing at the expense of students travelling to study in the UK, a more lucrative proposition for universities because of the high fees they pay.
Half of the 200,000 students were enrolled on distance-learning courses, while just 7,000 were studying on campuses directly run by UK universities.
A further 89,000 were studying for qualifications offered jointly by British institutions and foreign partners.
William Lawton, policy adviser at the UK Higher Education International Unit, a body established to co-ordinate, promote and undertake activities designed to support the British higher education sector’s global operations, said the statistics proved there was high demand for overseas provision.
Describing UK universities as the ‘pre-eminent’ providers in the field, he said: ‘Competition in international education is fierce and the provision of transnational education, including offshore campuses and programs, and joint degrees with international partners, is gaining momentum around the world.’
A third of those studying for UK qualifications overseas were postgraduates. Just under half were based in Asia, and four countries accounted for 37% of offshore provision — China, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore.
A quarter of the students were based in the European Union.
The Times reported that despite concerns about the knock-on effects of this growth, the Hesa figures show that students have also continued to come to the UK.
There were 342,790 international students in the UK in 2007-08 compared with 325,985 the previous year — an increase of 4.8 per cent. Chinese students made up 13% of the numbers and 8% came from India. However, overseas studying may soon overtake the number of students traveling to the UK. Which is a great worry for universities if your income depends on having the students on the spot and thus making you much more money.