The lucrative market for UK business schools has suffered a big fall in foreign students since government changes to visas were introduced, with figures revealing the decline is accelerating.
The number of non-EU citizens studying business and administration at postgraduate level has dropped by 6.7 per cent since 2011, when visa rules were tightened for such students seeking to work in the UK after graduation.
Higher Education Statistics Agency figures released on Thursday show the number of such students fell by 2,300 in the last academic year to 52,500 and by 3,780 since 2011.
The government has targeted foreign students in an attempt to cap net migration, which has reached record levels in recent months.
Business studies is the most popular course at British universities and has a disproportionately high impact on the revenue these institutions generate, with fees of about £60,000 for top MBA programmes.
Britain has the most top business schools outside the US, with 15 ranked in the world’s best 100 by this year’s FT global MBA ranking. The loss of international students risks undermining this advantage because they outnumber EU citizens on most campuses.
The loss in fees alone is more than £34m since 2010, according to a report by the Chartered Association of Business Schools.
The economic impact is much wider as foreign students spend money locally and are often visited by family, says Simon Collinson, dean at Birmingham Business School and CABS chair. “There is a real multiplier effect,” he said.
One business school dean, interviewed for the study, described government forecasts of a rise in UK student recruitment as “la la land”.
Another warned the visa rule-changes were encouraging students to look to schools in the US, Canada and Australia.
The hardest hit schools are those that have been most successful at attracting students from specific non-EU countries, particularly China and India. One of the hardest hit schools is Warwick Business School, which has traditionally had a higher percentage of students from India than other institutions.
Richard Heald, chief executive of the UK India Business Council, said the experience of Indian students in the UK was an important facet of trade and investment between the two countries.
“The decline in the numbers of these students should be a cause for concern and any link to changes in the conditions around post study work visas, whether perceived or otherwise, should be addressed as a matter of urgency,” he said.
Neil Carberry, director of employment, skills and public services at the CBI, which endorsed the CABS findings, described business education as a “growth opportunity for the UK”, adding that enabling foreign students to work in Britain after graduation was in the national interest.
“We must ensure we harness the strengths of international students, including by developing a robust visa system which is not a barrier to studying at our great business schools,” Mr Carberry said.