UK study visas down 5% in 2023, figures show

Published 29/02/2024

Sponsored study visas granted by the UK fell for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic in 2023, with 5% fewer granted to main applicants when compared with 2022.

A total of 457,673 sponsored study visas were granted to main applicants for the year, new statistics show.

Although figures are lower than in 2022, total figures are 70% higher than 2019.

However, the new figures from the Home Office come at a time when admissions teams are under pressure to recruit international students in a bid to subsidise other operations at universities, including funding places for domestic students.

When Q3 and Q4 are looked at in isolation, there is an indication that demand for UK study visas is cooling significantly.

Some 90% of those applying for sponsored study visas in 2023 were for higher education institutions, with the Home Office noting the sector has accounted for most of the growth in recent years.

The statistics also show that grants of extensions into sponsored study routes for main applicants decreased by 15% to 41,359 in 2023. In the previous year 48,857 extensions were granted.

Among the extensions granted to main applicants in 2023, Chinese nationals accounted for 29% (14,560) and Indian nationals 16% (7,743).

Numbers of dependant visas granted have already dipped even though rules banning masters taught students only came in January of this year.

The statistics included in the latest release are up to December 2023. UUK has this week said that the UK government has already achieved any aims to reduce the numbers of international students in the country with changes made earlier this year.

New research from IDP released this week indicated that the UK is the biggest loser regarding prospective students “reconsidering” their preferred study destinations following policy changes announced last year.

Key priority markets for the UK education export market, such as India and Nigeria, dipped in the last half of 2023.

Overall totals from Nigeria fell from 188,917 to 91,751 over 2023. Study visas grants to Indian nationals dropped from 178,040 to 159,686.

China increased slightly following a big drop during the pandemic, with 104,014 study visas granted in 2022 and 110,314 granted in 2023.

Overall, Q3 2023 saw 357,319 study visas granted compared to 370,749 in the same quarter the previous year. Similarly grants in Q4 dropped to 78,700, compared to 116,974 in Q4 in 2022.

These figures are the latest available and made more important as the release of HESA statistics, normally made public around February, has been delayed to April.

The Home Office highlighted that sponsored study visa grants to main applicants were “relatively stable” at around 200,000 per year between 2011 and 2016.

It said that evidence suggests that the “increasing international student population in the UK are studying at a postgraduate level, accounting for 74% of international students in 2022 to 2023”.

Stakeholders have previously warned that an overreliance on one-year masters students poses risks for the UK sector.

A report from the International Higher Education Commission released last year said that the high turnover of PGT students and the reliance on a few key markets could cause high operational risk.

The latest statistics show that India and China accounted for 26% and 24%, respectively, of the sponsored study visa grants to main applicants in 2023.

Dependant visas were still 7% higher over the full 2023 year and nine times higher than 2019.

However, the government announced it would cut back rights to bring partners and children, with only research-based postgraduate students permitted to do so from January 1 this year.

Graduate route extensions were up 57% in 2023, totalling 114,409. In 2022, grants for the route were at 72,979. Indian nationals represented the largest group of students, with 50,053 made to main applicants.

It accounted for over a third (37%) of extensions to main applicants into the Work category.

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