Decline in International Students at UK Business Schools: Survey Highlights New Visa Policies’ Impact

A recent survey conducted by the Chartered Association of Business Schools (ABS) in February has revealed a significant drop in the number of international students enrolling at business schools across the United Kingdom starting from January 2024. The decline has been largely attributed to the new visa regulations implemented by the government.

The survey, which involved 50 schools, showed that 76 percent of the institutions reported a decrease in enrolment from non-EU countries compared to the previous year. While recruitment from EU countries remained more stable, 41 percent of schools still noted a decline. Notably, schools reported substantial decreases in student recruitment from India and Nigeria, along with other regions including Europe, South Asia, and Latin America.

The recruitment of postgraduate students from non-EU countries proved even more challenging, with 78 percent of universities admitting to falling short of their recruitment targets. Among these, 61 percent reported being significantly below target, while 17 percent were slightly below.

Furthermore, the survey highlighted a worrying trend in the availability of postgraduate slots, with 60 percent of business schools offering significantly fewer places compared to the previous year. This includes popular programs like the MBA, which attracts talented professionals globally. Respondents expressed concerns that some programs might need to be discontinued if these trends persist.

These findings add to the alarming signs already detected in the 2023 staff survey, which showed that nearly a third of responding schools observed a decline in postgraduate enrolments from non-EU international students for courses starting in autumn 2023. This marked a deterioration from a 26 percent decline recorded in autumn 2022.

A large portion of the decline in applications has been linked to recent policy announcements by the government, with nine out of ten survey participants stating that these changes negatively impact their ability to attract international students. From January 2024, UK visa regulations will prohibit international students enrolling in master’s programs, including those pursuing master’s and MBA degrees, from bringing family members to the UK.

Concerns about the adverse effects of this new rule were expressed by 93 percent of survey respondents. Other ongoing issues include delays in visa processing, decreases in MBA enrolment, and even the cancellation of courses.

Some deans also voiced concerns that other countries perceived as more welcoming and positive towards international students could become more attractive educational destinations. Additional challenges highlighted in the report included visa processing issues, concerns about post-study employment opportunities, and the cost of living in the UK.

The declining number of international students has profound implications for business schools, with 92 percent of deans acknowledging that their institutions rely on fees from international students to some extent to maintain financial sustainability.