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International higher education in facts and figures

Rosalind Lowe

Rosalind Lowe

Former Policy Researcher
Universities UK
international students

Today, Universities UK and the International Unit publish International Higher Education in Facts and Figures 2016, a handy booklet with key stats on international students and higher education.  

The facts and figures cover a range of areas, from where international students want to study, to which countries undertake most internationally-collaborative research. Again, these various measures show the UK to be one of the leading nations in the world in terms of global higher education. 

Here are some of the highlights from the new booklet:

1. The UK attracts more international students than any other country outside of the USA

The latest figures from the OECD show that one in ten of the world's international students study at UK universities.  

In the face of intensifying global competition for international students – with numerous governments overseas implementing bold strategies and targets for recruitment – the UK has retained this position throughout the last decade. For a relatively small country, this is a huge achievement, and a testimony to the global reputation and success of our higher education sector. Notably, however, the number of non-EU students coming to the UK has stagnated since 2011.

Being a student in the UK provides an opportunity to learn in a truly global environment. Compared to its competitors, the UK has one of the most internationally-diverse student populations in the world: 1 in every 6 students in the UK is from abroad, compared to around 1 in every 25 in the USA.


Source: OECD Education at a Glance (2015)

2. The UK has the most satisfied international students

Not only are UK universities successful in attracting international students, they also deliver on their promises to them. International students are very satisfied with their courses. When comparing international undergraduate students' satisfaction, the UK has higher satisfaction rates than key competitors on all aspects of the student experience. 

 Source: International Student Barometer, I-graduate (2015)

3. Over 22 000 UK students have spent a period abroad as part of their degree

As well as hosting international students, universities also partner with other universities around the world to provide study abroad opportunities for their students. Over 22,000 UK students studied for a period abroad as part of their degree in 2014–15, over half of whom went to other EU countries. This trend is continuing to grow, which is great news, considering that our research suggests that a period abroad is associated with a number of positive outcomes for graduates, including lower unemployment rates among those who have studied overseas, compared to those who have not.

Top 10 subjects- image 20.JPG Source: HESA student record (2007-08 to 2014-15)

Top 5 destinations- image 21.JPG
 Source: HESA Student Record (2014-15)

 4. The UK is a world leader in internationally-collaborative research

Not only does higher education benefit from internationalisation, UK research is also conducted within an increasingly global network:  23 per cent of UK universities' research grants and contract income is from overseas; one-quarter of academic staff working in the UK are from overseas, and almost half (46%) of UK academic publications are internationally co-authored. This is good news for UK science. International co-authorship is associated with higher performance in terms of field weighted citation impact.

percentage of intl publications- image 25.JPG Source: OECD science and technology indicators (2015)

The UK remains a world leader in research and innovation, boasting the highest field weighted citation impact of any country and ranking second in the world on the Global Innovation Index.

5. The impact of EU membership on UK higher education

A key theme in this year's Facts and Figures is the role of the EU. Our analysis suggests that the EU helps our universities to create jobs and educate people, collaborate on cutting-edge research, and it also helps our universities to offer life-changing opportunities for students.

  • Students from other EU countries alone contribute more than £3.7 billion to the UK economy.
  • The number of UK students going abroad through the Erasmus programme has increased by over 50% since 2007-08.
  • 13 of the UK's top 20 research partner countries are other EU countries. Almost half (46%) of all UK internationally co-authored publications were co-authored with researchers from other EU countries.
  • The UK coordinates more projects funded under the EU's Horizon 2020 than any other country. UK universities alone coordinate over three times as many projects as German or Dutch universities. 

Horizon 2020 projects- image 28.JPG Source: European Commission Cordis (at April, 2016)

EU funding supports the global competitiveness of our research base and allows the UK to make ground-breaking advancements. Importantly, research carried out also helps the EU to tackle global challenges, transform people's lives and boost economies.

This year's International Higher Education in Facts and Figures report includes statistics from a range of sources, including the latest HESA student, finance and staff records (2014-15), the OECD, UNESCO, Elsevier and the European Commission. 

For more facts and figures on international higher education download the full booklet.

Leave a Comment

K M Enayet Hossain
K M Enayet Hossain says:
3 June 2016 at 13:25

Very informative article. Thanks a lot. Regards, K M Enayet Hossain, CEO - Total Student Care (TSC)

Chris Walker
Chris Walker says:
1 July 2016 at 15:04

Informative and Helpful post for the students who're planing for overseas education, 

Thanks for sharing it.

Andrew Rennie
Andrew Rennie says:
21 July 2016 at 13:19

A great little overview of the facts and figures. Well done. Andrew Rennie - NCC Education

John Expert
John Expert says:
7 March 2017 at 05:00

Hello Rosalind, thank you for sharing this useful article. This is a Helpful post for the students who are planning to go abroad for overseas education. 

LIBT Uk says:
12 March 2018 at 08:44

Great Post. thanks for sharing


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