A survey of international students carried out by the British Council has found that nearly 14,000 fewer students from east Asia are likely to come to the UK in 2020/21 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

This would add up to an estimated 12% fall in overall international student numbers, resulting in a £460m loss to UK universities, with the British Council predicting it could take as long as four years for the sector to recover.

Matt Durnin, the author of a report for the British Council, said: “Prospective international students are facing a lot of uncertainty, but many are clearly trying to find a way to keep their overseas study plans.

“There is a window of opportunity over the next two months to create a greater sense of certainty about the upcoming academic year. If responses are clear and quickly communicated to prospective students, UK higher education will face a much more manageable scenario.”


The survey found that 29% of prospective students are now likely to delay or cancel their plans to study, with the majority of postgraduate applicants – and 46% of undergraduates – saying they would rather postpone beginning their studies until January 2021 than begin with online teaching in September.

Speaking at a British Council summit on June 5th, Michelle Donelan, the higher education minister said the UK government is ‘working very hard to ensure that international students do not have to jump through hoops to come here’, promising that immigration regulations would be as flexible as possible.

The University and College Union (UCU) said the survey provided even more evidence that the government must provide universities with urgent financial help after it published a report warning that the sector was facing a £2.5 billion funding shortfall.

UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, said: “The current wait-and-see approach from ministers is exacerbating the crisis for prospective students and putting tens of thousands of jobs at universities and in the wider economy at risk,”

“Universities are focusing their efforts on trying to get as many students through their doors in September, yet they are refusing to listen to students in the UK and abroad who say they are worried about what their education will look like and even if their chosen institution can ride out the crisis.”

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