Huge fall in international numbers predicted in January as deposits and CAS collapse

Huge fall in international numbers predicted in January as deposits and CAS collapse

NB that Enroly has subsequently published more recent data for the January 2024 intake. Access it here >

The latest real-time data from Enroly Data Insights forecasts dramatic falls in international student numbers for the UK’s January 2024 intake when compared to January 2023.

The data, taken from a representative cross-section of small to large UK universities, is based on over 58,000 international students and compared to the same point in the January 2023 intake.

As we enter the latter stages of the processing window, the numbers show that overall deposit payments are down by 52%, CAS issuance is down by 64% and visa issuance is down by 71% when compared to January 2023.

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The falls are partly driven by a collapse in the Nigerian market, where deposits and CAS/visa issued are down by 74% and 76% respectively. There are indications there will also be large falls in students from the UK’s largest market, India, with deposits down 52% and CAS/visa issued down by 66%.

Commenting on the Enroly data, Jamie Arrowsmith, Director of Universities UK International, said, ‘The data presented today suggests that an extremely challenging period lies ahead for international student recruitment in the UK. After very strong growth in recent years, numbers are being impacted by a range of global factors. These include competition from overseas – with the USA and Australia reporting strong growth after the end of pandemic restrictions –visa policy changes, here in the UK, and very difficult economic conditions in a number of countries, including Nigeria.

‘The competitiveness of the UK as a study destination is being significantly tested. It is vital that the UK remains open and attractive to international students, and that government takes steps to reassure prospective students that they remain welcome in the UK, that our universities remain among the very best places in the world to realise their ambitions, and that they can have confidence that the post-study work opportunities provided by the Graduate route are here to stay.’

Overall numbers year-on-year

The large drop in deposit, visa and CAS activity, when compared to the same point in January 2023 intake, is an acceleration of similar trends observed in the September 2023 intake, where Enroly reported falls in key Nigerian and Indian markets.

Table showing the relative numbers of deposits, CAS and visas issued at this point in the January 2024 intake versus the same point in the January 20234 intake.
The table shows the relative numbers of deposits, CAS and visas issued at this point in the January 2024 intake versus the same point in the January 20234 intake.

Some universities are running an additional December intake this year, but even when adjusted to account for these students, the outlook on overall numbers remains bleak: when taken together the December and January figures represent a 49% reduction in deposits and a 60% reduction in CAS issued compared to January 2023.

The Enroly Data Team also investigated whether delays in CAS processing might be contributing to the depressed CAS numbers in the data specifically, amid a focus on increased rates of document fraud and enhanced credibility checks. While it shows that universities opened CAS processing one week later than for the January 2023 intake on average, the impact of this difference is expected to be minimal.

Catriona McCarthy, Chair of the British Universities International Liaison Association (BUILA), says, ‘It is clear that our sector is working through a challenging period. Changes to Dependent permissions, as well as currency and cost of living issues are all having an impact, and our competitors are of course working hard to secure share. However, it is also important to remember that January 2023 demand was something of an exception, and so I'm certainly considerate of that fact when looking at both recent and year on year patterns.’

Insights by market: India & Nigeria

When looking at the latest data at market level, the plummeting Indian and Nigerian markets are responsible for the overall drop in numbers.

Table showing the year-on-year declines in deposits and CAS/visa issuance in the Indian and Nigerian markets for the January 2024 intake.
The table shows the year-on-year declines in deposits and CAS/visa issuance in the Indian and Nigerian markets for the January 2024 intake.

Pakistan is currently showing a smaller decline of -16.81% year-on-year, and that is following large year-on-year increases of more than 100% for Pakistani students in September.

When assessing the market-level data, Syed Nooh, Head of Global Insights and Market Development at the University of East Anglia, said, ‘A large drop in deposits from India suggests that the post 1992 universities, many of which have seen remarkable growth from India in recent intakes, will see the sharpest declines this coming January.

‘Increasingly, January is a crucial intake for many of these universities, and a fall in numbers on this scale will undoubtedly have a significant financial impact on some institutions.’

A closing processing window

Given the sharp declines when compared to this point in the intake last year, it is also worth noting that we are entering the final two-three weeks of peak processing for the coming intake.

With such a large sample of users, the Enroly platform can be seen as an ECG for the industry. Student activity peaked at nearly 67,000 daily student sessions on 14 December 2022 before declining rapidly.

The graph above shows how student activity on the Enroly platform drops off very significantly from mid-December. In December 2022 it peaked at 66,849 active students on the platform on 14 December before dropping off sharply.

This activity is representative of the industry as a whole, giving universities very little opportunity to turn around these initial declines.

Unsurprisingly, staff and agent activity also drops markedly in December for the Christmas holiday break, as evidenced by Enroly platform data from 2022 below, where numbers peaked, again on 14th December, at just under 5,000 active daily users.

Staff and agent activity also peaked on 14th December 2022.

Agent diversity and data

Agent diversity* has declined to 0.79 so far for the intake in January 2024, down from 0.86 in January 2023. 

While the figures for agency-recruited students have fallen alongside overall student numbers, three of the top ten biggest agents have bucked the trend, recording modest gains in their year-on-year student numbers so far for the intake.

The ten largest agents have also increased their market share when compared to last year: up from 47% to 55%.

*Enroly uses the Simpson's Diversity index to calculate diversity.

Comment on the data

Despite the evident cooling in interest in the UK market, that is not to say that best practice cannot make a huge difference when it comes to ultimate enrolment numbers.

Donal O’Connor, Director of Future Students at the University of South Wales, said, ‘I'm proud to say that our university has experienced only a minor downturn this January compared to the broader sector. A key contributor to this resilience has been our intense focus on offer turnaround time. We've been particularly proactive in using technology to our advantage, especially by maximising our use of Enroly CAS Shield to assess students and issue CAS much earlier in the cycle. 

‘However, it's important to acknowledge that the landscape is continually evolving. We've noticed a dip in applications and general interest for the January 2024 intake. Despite these challenges, we remain committed to adapting and innovating in our recruitment strategies to maintain our strong position.’

Jeff Williams, Enroly CEO and Co-Founder, added, ‘University leaders and international offices are currently facing unprecedented challenges in student recruitment. From shifting global policies and economic uncertainties to evolving student preferences, these complexities require a nuanced approach. Navigating this intricate landscape demands not only agility but also a deep reliance on robust data and advanced tools. It's essential for success in today's ever-changing educational environment.’

The Enroly platform helps universities convert more international students while transforming the CAS, visa and arrival experience. Our data solutions offer universities ground-breaking, real-time business reporting for the first time. Book a demo to find out more >

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