International students

International students: a round-up of recent reports and news

Photo of Tabetha NewmanBuilding on our previous blog postTabetha Newman, our consultant researcher, has summarised some interesting reports and articles that have been published since our ISDX Phase 1 report was launched in April 2023. We hope you find these useful, and look forward to sharing the Phase 2 findings (where we collected feedback from international students) with you very soon. If you have read other relevant reports not listed below, please share by posting a comment.

Useful summary data sources

QAA’s Supporting and enhancing the experience of international students in the UK

QAA’s report, published in March 2023, offers advice and reflective questions that are focused on significant stages of the international student journey, from pre-arrival through to academic support and skills, and into careers and employability. This report is targeted towards academic and professional services staff who have responsibility for engaging with international students. Ultimately, the aim is to provide staff with practical guidance that helps them improve the experience and sense of belonging for their international students.

UUKi’s International facts and figures for 2023

UUKi update this useful webpage each year, which provides an overview of international and transnational students (data taken from the 2021-22 year), as well as regional profiles that focus on each world region and describe international student and staff recruitment from each. Regional data reveals that the highest share of international students in 2021-22 came from Asia, and the largest growth rate came from Africa. Recruitment from all global regions increased, other than Europe where numbers of international students significantly decreased by 19%.

NSS interactive data (2018-2022) allowing comparison between international and domestic students:

This interactive graph allows you to partition data for each of the NSS questions asked between 2018-22 by variables including age, sex, subject area and domicile. Choosing ‘domicile’ allows you to view data split into UK, EU or ‘rest of world’ students. Typically, data from ‘rest of world’ tends to be more positive than opinions from UK or EU students. However, ‘rest of world’ students provide the lowest agreement when asked whether ‘staff have made the subject interesting’.

It’s also interesting to see that for all student groups there’s been a reduction in overall agreement to several statements when we compare 2018 data with that from 2022. For example, the proportion who agreed they could access course specific resources, or that IT resources and library resources have supported their learning well, has decreased over time. It will be interesting to see how the new NSS questions track through time, given that 2023 is the first year in which they’ve been used. You can read WonkHE’s opinion on the first year of data here, which embeds interactive data tables for the 2023 datasets.

The benefits and costs of international higher education students to the UK economy

The 2023 version of this useful report, written by the London School of Economics on behalf of the Higher Education Policy Institute, Universities UK International, and Kaplan International Pathways, updates us on the growing economic benefits of international students to the UK. We quoted the 2022 report in our ISDX Phase 1 report, and it’s interesting to see that since then the increase in international student numbers has significantly increased their economic impact to the UK:

“Reflecting the 40% increase in the number of international students between 2018/19 and 2021/22, the net economic impact has increased from £28.2bn for the 2018/19 cohort to £37.4bn for the 2021/22 cohort (a 33% increase in real terms).”

Reports that include discussion of international student experience

International graduate routes: narratives from the UK job market

This AGCAS 2023 report – endorsed by UKCISA and BUILA – summarises research carried out in 2022. AGCAS wanted to better understand and describe the experiences of international graduates seeking to work in the UK following the launch of the Graduate route visa. The data identify significant barriers to finding employment post-study, notably in relation to issues with visa applications and lack of information or interest about the scheme from UK employers. Welfare challenges and a lack of support further limit international graduates’ ability to remain in the UK to pursue employment.

The graduate visa: an effective post-study pathway for international students in the UK?

This All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) committee first identified the need for a UK post-study work visa, which then became available in July 2021. This follow-up report seeks to identify how well the visa is working. They conclude that whilst many of its initial objectives are being met, some are yet to be realised in practice. Notably, whilst international students appreciate the more efficient and simple application process, many employers remain unaware of the visa and/or disinclined to consider it. They recommend that government educate and incentivise the scheme to businesses, and request that universities work with local governments to collect data about their graduates’ ability to gain employment.

Student Engagement Guidelines: Learning from innovative practices introduced in response to COVID-19 A collaboration of 10 UK modern universities

This QAA report summarises data collected from a student survey and focus groups that asked questions about their learning experience and course engagement post-pandemic. Just over one third of survey responses were from international students. The report also describes how the 10 participating universities trialled different ways to better engage students.

Latest news and opinion pieces

WonkHE Podcasts and blog posts relevant to international students

When it comes to international students, WonkHE is a useful source of latest news, opinions and geopolitical context. It’s worth considering signing up to receive updates, as all things ‘international student’ are often on the list of issues covered.

Recent articles include:

  • What are the limits to the number of international students? (August 2023) This discusses whether there will be limits set to cap the number of international students in the near future, with a summary of the recent data relating to numbers, main recruiter countries, and dependents.
  • Clamping down on unscrupulous student recruitment agents (July 2023) This summarises some of the concerns relating to agents acting on behalf of UK HE institutions, and the potential influence of commission fees on the advice that agents then give to prospective students. The article ends by summarising some of the ways in which Australian universities are responding in order to improve agent regulation.
  • A public sector pay deal balanced on the backs of students from the Global South (July 2023) This article draws a line between increased pledges from government to increased public spending, and the higher visa and health charge fees that international students and those applying for work visas will face in the near future. Eye-watering sums that are useful to remember when considering the financial burdens that international students face in addition to higher course fees.
  • Diversifying, and tightening up, international recruitment (June 2023) This article summarises a UUKi report that presents survey data and good practice guidance about how UK HE institutions could improve diversification strategies. Whilst increasing diversity makes sense, institutions may need to also consider how that impacts support. In our Phase 1 report, we discussed how an increase in international student diversity is likely to also lead to an increase in the diversity of support needs (including digital teaching and learning support). Our Phase 2 report will describe some of the differences between international student groups in more detail and from their perspective.

WonkHE also publish a regular podcast, that might be of interest.

Tribal published their International Student Barometer survey results in August 2023. You can download a copy here. Key global findings reveal that:

  • International students travel so they can get face-to-face interactions with teaching staff and other students; they don’t want lots of online classes
  • That said, the majority appreciate a hybrid model of delivery, acknowledging that this reflects the way the majority of people now work globally, particularly post pandemic
  • International students value online lecture recordings
  • Tribal identified differences in opinion depending on home country

This report includes a UK regional focus section, which reveals that the UK performs well in terms of providing good careers support, library services and reliable internet access. However, there are concerns regarding the cost of living and access to accommodation and healthcare.

Ideas relating to fostering inclusion

One of the participants of our ISDX project is Dr Patrice Seuwou from the University of Northampton. He has recently written a number of articles for the Times Higher Education that focus on ways that universities might foster inclusion with their Black students. Titles of these articles are as follows, and a link to them is available here.

  • Ten actions to improve the experiences of Black students within UK universities; in this article Dr Seuwou also discusses Black international student support and inclusion, and identifies the need to support transition into a new living and learning culture (something we also covered in our Phase 1 report)
  • Ten actions lecturers can take to boost black students’ belonging
  • Action to improve diversity and inclusion for Black students and staff

Stay informed

To be kept updated on Jisc’s research and forthcoming publications on international students’ digital experience, please join our mailing list here: Stay informed of our research on international students’ digital experience




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