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Higher Education Student Statistics: UK, 2017/18 - Where students come from and go to study

Statistical Bulletin SB252

Where are students in HE studying?

In 2017/18, 168 HE providers reported student data to HESA. More information on what this means in terms of coverage of the higher education sector is given in the about this release section. Figure 6 shows the number of students studying at each HE provider in the UK in 2017/18, with a breakdown by the geographic location of students' permanent home address prior to study (known as domicile).

Figure 6 - HE student enrolments by HE provider and domicile

Academic year 2017/18


HESA does not collect information on UK students who go abroad to study, but more information on these students can be found through United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Where do HE students come from?

Figures 7 and 8 show:

  • UK students made up the largest proportion of enrolments in 2017/18.
  • Proportions of students from outside the UK varied by level and mode of study. Full-time postgraduates had the highest percentage from non-EU countries, at 43%.
  • Across all student enrolments, HE providers in England had the greatest proportion of non-EU students, while providers in Scotland had the greatest proportion of other European Union students.
  • At HE providers in Wales, there was a decrease of 5,250, or 26% in the number of non-EU students between 2013/14 and 2017/18, although over the same time period Scotland had a 14% increase in the number of non-EU students.
  • Since the European Union referendum (Brexit) result in June 2016, there has been a slight drop in the number of first year students from other European Union countries. However, the number of first year students for 2017/18 are still higher than they were in 2013/14.
  • Non-EU first year student numbers grew by 13,140 between 2016/17 and 2017/18. Most of this increase occurred at postgraduate taught level.

Figure 7 - HE student enrolments by level of study, mode of study and domicile

Academic year 2017/18

What is ‘First year marker’?

This option restricts the table to only show students who were on the first year of their course. This is useful for restricting data to the newest cohort of entrants. See the year of study definitions for more detail.

Figure 8 - HE student enrolments by domicile

Academic years 2013/14 to 2017/18


The cross-border flows of first year students from the UK in Figure 9 shows that the majority of students stay in their home country, although those from Wales and Northern Ireland were more likely to cross borders than those from England and Scotland.

Figure 9 - UK domiciled first year HE student enrolments by domicile and country of HE provider

Academic year 2017/18

Figure 10 shows the 2017/18 ranking of the top 10 European Union countries of domicile (excluding the UK) for HE student enrolments and the change since 2013/14. Figure 11 shows the same information based on non-EU countries of domicile. Due to overlapping data points on these charts, zoom functionality has been inbuilt.

Within the European Union:

  • Italy has seen a notable rise to become the top European Union country sending students to the UK, overtaking five other countries in the last five years.
  • Germany is the top European Union country to send students to Wales and Scotland, and Ireland is top in sending students to Northern Ireland.
  • When considering only those students enrolling on their first year of a higher education course, Italy ranks in third place behind Germany and France, with Portugal also making the top ten this year.

Click and drag to highlight an area on the chart below to zoom in. Right-click to reset the view.

Figure 10 - Top ten European-Union countries of domicile (excluding the UK) in 2017/18 for HE student enrolments

Academic years 2013/14 and 2017/18


Outside the European Union:

  • China sent more students to the UK than any other overseas country. In 2017/18, one-third of all non-EU students were from China. The number of students from China was also 21% higher in 2017/18 than in 2013/14.
  • Nigeria has seen a 42% decline in student numbers coming to the UK over the five year period, dropping behind the United States, Hong Kong and Malaysia.
  • Student numbers from India declined from 39,090 in 2010/11 to 16,550 in 2016/17. In 2017/18, for the first time this rose to 19,750, the same level it had been at in 2013/14.
  • Immigration statistics published by the Home Office in November 2018, which compare the year ending September 2018 with the year ending September 2017, also noted a rise in sponsored study visas granted to Indian nationals (up 33% to 18,735).
  • The Home Office immigration statistics also show that overall there were 239,595 sponsored study visas granted, a 7% increase on the previous year. Figure 8 shows 185,415 non-EU students enrolled in their first year of study in 2017/18. The difference in numbers may be attributed to the following:
    • Sponsored study visas are granted to those wishing to study in schools and in further education as well as higher education.
    • The immigration data provide an indication of the number of people who have an intention to enter the UK for study reasons. The data do not show whether, or when, an individual actually arrived in the UK, or what they did on arrival to the UK.

Click and drag to highlight an area on the chart below to zoom in. Right-click to reset the view.

Figure 11 - Top ten non-European Union countries of domicile in 2017/18 for HE student enrolments

Academic years 2013/14 and 2017/18


What students are registered at UK HE providers, but studying overseas?

Figure 12 shows information from the HESA Aggregate Offshore record, capturing students studying wholly outside the UK who are either registered with a UK HE provider or who are studying for an award of a UK HE provider.

In 2017/18:

  • There were 693,695 students studying wholly overseas, a decrease of 2% compared with 2016/17.
  • Students registered at Oxford Brookes University accounted for 42% of the total population of the Aggregate offshore record. The majority of these were first degree students registered with an overseas partner on Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) programmes.
  • There were 139 HE providers who returned data on HE level students in the Aggregate offshore record.
  • Of those students studying wholly overseas, 12% were studying within the European Union and 88% were studying outside the European Union.

Figure 12 - HE student enrolments based wholly overseas by location and type of provision

Academic years 2013/14 to 2017/18


National Statistic

Release date

17 January 2019, 9:30



Release frequency

Annual - view all releases (1998/99 onwards)


Children, education and skills

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Rebecca Mantle

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