Centuries of tradition face decreasing numbers of international students at British universities
Universities in the UK pride themselves on worldwide recognition and have quite an impressive reputation. Who has not heard about the long history of Oxford or Cambridge, seen the top ranking positions of Imperial, UCL, LSE, King's College, or University of Edinburgh, and the high numbers of Nobel Prize laureates produced by all those schools?
Historically, the UK is the runner-up of the US in terms of international student intake. Just in 2020/2021, the UK’s Higher Education Statistics Agency recorded more than 600,000 international students pursuing their degrees in Britain, around 11,000 of which came from Poland.
As impressive as it may seem, this number has now significantly decreased. According to the 2021 student intake statistics, the number of Polish applicants to UK universities was only 1,200 - a drastic change caused by an increase in university fees for international students, new loan regulations and the majority of students being granted the ‘overseas’ students status.
In order to help bring the opportunity of studying in the UK back to the ambitious European youth, the Federation of Polish Student Societies in the UK has set up an initiative called SaveEUStudents. By consulting the current situation with international organisations, gathering information on financing the studies and creating resources, the campaign hopes to make a change in the accessibility of UK higher education to more prospective students coming from Poland and beyond.
Now it is even more necessary to resolve the issues caused by Brexit, as the intellectual abilities of Polish students at the universities back in our country do not differ much from the intellectual abilities of Poles studying in the UK. But what is it exactly about education in Great Britain that makes it so outstanding, in contrast to Poland? What makes it one of the most desired university destinations in the world and what determines the continuously increasing international demand for higher education in Britain?
The renaissance man - Spending your youth at one of the higher education institutions in the UK
Teaching delivered at British universities is in fact top-quality, as expected. There is a heavy focus on mastering practical skills through project-style modules and examinations, case studies, piles of essays, and team-building activities. But is it all only about academic development? Apparently not. The nature of teaching and values that are promoted this way, serve as a catalyst for building the character of “a man who can do all things if he will.” Therefore, the key aspect that makes British education stand out in the international arena may lie within the spectrum of possibilities.
University life in Great Britain seems to revolve around student societies, which help build a comprehensive student profile and provide many career- or academic-related opportunities, all while being a product of voluntary student initiative. Consulting or fintech associations are a head start for securing internships at leading global companies and conferences organised by societies, with Polish communities among leaders in this regard, are a way of gaining new connections. The Congress of Polish Societies, LSE Polish Economic Forum, or UCL Leaders serve as opportunities to socialise and discuss the challenges of today’s world. These experiences as well as many other initiatives prepare students for professional development, improving job-market skills, as well as effective interpersonal communication. Additionally, they help the youth gain critical thinking skills so sought-after in the modern world.
It comes as no surprise that the public and private sectors of other countries find it beneficial to invest in the education of their citizens in the UK, which manifests itself in the fact that as of 2019 data, the higher education delivers 70% of the UK’s education exports revenue, 63% (£15.8bn) of which can be attributed to EU and non-EU international students.
SaveEUStudents - In the name of the cause
For European Union students, Brexit and its aftermath severely limited study opportunities in the UK. Many young, motivated students are now facing high fees due to new legislation. The increased fees now amount to over £30,000 per annum, compared to £9,250, which, before Brexit, could be covered by a student loan. Consequently, according to UCAS statistics, the UK has noted a decline of 43% in EU applicants, including a 73% fall in Polish students.
As a response, Federation of Polish Student Societies in the UK has launched SaveEUStudents campaign that aims at helping prospective students make their education dreams come true. By consulting the current situation with international organisations, gathering information on financing the studies and creating resources, we are hoping to make a change in the accessibility of UK higher education to more prospective students coming from Poland and beyond.
SaveEUStudents initiative is being led with a very holistic approach. Its members are in close contact with international institutions i.a. the European Parliament, which has successfully accepted the initiative’s petition written last year and preliminarily discussed it this year in June. Through partnership with other European student organisations, for instance, our past collaboration with The Hungary Youth Association, the campaign gained a more global perspective.
This year, under the supervision of Aleksandra Czyżak, the team has set new, ambitious goals for the upcoming months. Above all, the expansion of the project, through reaching out to other European student associations and students from British universities - to gather representatives from various backgrounds in the team. Secondly, raising awareness through media channels. The core actions for the nearest future will also revolve around seeking funding from the Polish private and public sectors, as well as creating a financial guide for potential applicants on possible ways to find resources for studies in the UK, i.a. appropriate scholarships.
The uniqueness of studying in the UK makes it definitely worth fighting for. We do not wish the future generations to encounter a restricted choice of development opportunities abroad.
So do get involved. Be up to date.
Since not all is lost yet!
Migration Advisory Committee, (2018) Impact of International Students in the UK.
Polish Economic Forum, Research Unit, LSE SU.
Study in the UK, (2022) International Student Statistics in UK 2022.
Viggo Stacey, (2022) UK hits 600,000 international student target 10 years early, The Pie News.
Ben Koschalka, (2021) EU applicants to UK universities fall 43%, including 73% decline in Polish students, Notes from Poland.
Anna Britten, (2021), Higher education delivers 70% of UK’s education exports revenue, University Business.