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Executive summary


1. This research studies pathways that international students use to start their first degrees in England. It focuses on pathways onto first degree courses associated with the transfer of students from overseas education establishments and from transnational education (TNE) courses provided by UK education providers overseas, and then studies their progression into postgraduate programmes delivered in England. While the focus remains on the transnational students, this research identifies other cohorts of students who progress from undergraduate into postgraduate education in England.

Key points

International undergraduate entrants

2. Growth in international student demand at undergraduate level was concentrated in East Asia, mainly in countries strong in TNE and with high progression rates of students from courses delivered abroad to first degree programmes in England. More than half of the growth in international entrants in 2013-14 is attributed to growth in entrants from China, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

TNE entry

3. One-third of all first degree entrants in 2013-14 (17,140 entrants) began their first degree through the means of a transnational pathway. These students are referred to as ‘transnational students’. Entrants from China and Malaysia made up 70 per cent of all entrants. More than half of the first degree entrants from China and Malaysia started their course outside the UK (55 per cent or 8,585 entrants and 61 per cent or 3,360 entrants respectively).

4. Students studying business, management and administrative studies courses have the highest propensity to use transnational pathways. Almost half of the entrants in this subject area (49 per cent, 9,525 entrants) had started their studies overseas.

Postgraduate progression

5. Students starting their first degree through transnational pathways were found to have much higher progression rates into postgraduate study than other international students. About 64 per cent of the Chinese transnational students who commenced their first degree programme in 2011-12 were found on postgraduate programmes in 2013-14.

6. The research also studied how many of the postgraduate entry population in 2013-14 had studied previously in the UK. Given the larger size of the postgraduate entry cohort, the proportional contribution of transnational students is less than the above figure. It remains high for China, however: 17 per cent of the total postgraduate Chinese entrants (5,315 entrants) were transnational students.

7. This analysis also identified the European Union (EU) countries with the highest proportions of students who had previously studied in the UK. EU students paying the higher tuition fees introduced in 2012-13 are expected to graduate in the current 2014-15 academic year. If these students’ propensity to further their studies diminishes, the countries with the highest proportions of students who had previously studied in the UK are most likely to be affected.

Action required

8. No action is required.

Date: 9 June 2015

Ref: HEFCE 2015/08

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions

Of interest to those
responsible for:

International higher education; International offices; Global engagement office; International partnerships.

Enquiries should be directed to:

Adam Finlayson, tel 0117 931 7108, email, or