International Students in the UK

International Students in the UK

International students are the backbone of the United Kingdom’s world-class education system. Contributing upwards of £14billion pounds to the economy and providing 30% of the higher education industries funding, as well as bringing with them a wealth of knowledge, cultural identities and languages, their impact on our society is vital.

  • The UK attracts over 500,000 students into primary, secondary and tertiary education as well as over 580,000 students to learn English each year from over 80 different countries.
  • International students in the UK can be found studying at a range of ages and in a variety of different educational models, with goals to increase numbers by up to 75,000 by 2019/20.


The majority of international students in the UK are currently undertaking a degree, at both private and public universities, in wide scope of subjects. According to Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), the most comprehensive source for data on international students there are over 124,000 EU students and 312,000 non-EU students studying at UK institutions in the 2014/15 academic year. We are aware that the majority of these students are enrolled onto one-year post-graduate degrees meaning that the UK sees an influx of bright-minds annually.

UniversitiesUK have complied a helpful guide with international higher education facts and figures for the university sector, which includes a section on the impact of the EU and its membership on UK HE sector

Independent Higher Education Colleges

As well as higher education institutions with university status, international students can also be found in over 750 independent higher education colleges in the UK. These colleges often teach specialist, creative or vocational subjects in a smaller study environment that can provide international students with one-to-one care and support. Though there is no national system for collection all international student enrolments, estimates based on the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Tier Four Visa data from 2013/14, suggest that over 14,000 students were studying at independent higher education colleges. For a further understanding of international student data, you can read the 2016 BIS report here.

Pathway Colleges

International students are also attending pathway colleges, which provide routes into higher education. Students at pathway colleges have been amongst the fastest growing groups of international students for the past ten years; this is partially due to the UK offering more pathway programmes than any other country.

Reports by Studyportals & Cambridge English suggest that 40% of international students in UK universities began their journey at a pathway college. According to the 2015 UK pathways census, over 13,000 international students studied at these colleges, which prepared them for undergraduate or post-graduate degrees often in partnership with a public or private university or college.

There are five major pathway college groups in the UK. To find out more about them visit their websites below:

UK Further Education Colleges

In the UK’s further education sector, 208 colleges hold licences to teach international students on courses of six months or longer. Estimates from the department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) suggest there were almost 7,000 international students studying in FE colleges in 2013/14, with Business, English Language and Engineering being the most popular courses. The BIS report, which provides an evaluation of Tier 4 international students to FE colleges and the UK economy, can be accessed here.

For more information on international education in further education colleges visit the Association of Colleges.

The Association of College’s (AOC) International Charter promotes the international reputation of UK Colleges which enables them to present their work to overseas governments, agencies, students and other stakeholders.

Independent Schools Sector

Many international students also study at school level.  Data collected by the Independent Schools Council (ISC) in their 2015 census showed there are over 17,000 international students studying at schools in the UK, supporting over 17,300 jobs and contributing £713 million to GDP.

As well as this, an ISC research found that 77% of international students who attend a UK independent school make the transition in a UK university. Currently, state-funded schools are not permitted to educate international students for more than a short exchange programme.

Independent schools who teach international students are also represented by the British Association of Independent Schools with International Students  (BAISIS)

BAISIS represent its members at a national level and promote best practice in both an academic and pastoral provision for international students at UK independent schools, study centres and colleges. They have written an article exclusively for the APPG. Click here to download the PDF.

English as a Foreign Language (EFL)

According to statistics from English UK, the largest group of international students can be found studying English as a Foreign Language (EFL), with over 580,000 students studying at 479 public and private centres. As the home of the English language, the UK has more EFL students than any other destination globally, with some studying for a few weeks up to over twelve months.

English UK undertakes an annual student statistics report which is a valuable source of facts and figures for international students studying English in the UK.

Supporting International Students

The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) are the UK’s advisory body for supporting international students, and the institutions that work with them. UKCISA have been operating for 50 years and have over 500 members and provide reports, data and information on the sector and immigration conditions surrounding international students. UKCISA have also recently produced a very useful Policy Briefing which aims to bring together in one short document the key figures, competitor’s information and immigration rule changes, identifying major issues for the future for international students.