The UK Home Office’s decision to ban dependant visas for most international students has had a negative impact on the enrolment of Nigerian and Chinese students in British universities.
The policy, which was introduced in January 2024, prevents students from bringing their family members with them to the UK, unless they are in postgraduate programmes with a research focus.
The policy was implemented to reduce the net migration and the pressure on the UK’s housing infrastructure, according to the former interior secretary Suella Braverman, who was sacked in March 2023.
The British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Richard Montgomery, also defended the policy in June 2023, saying that it was necessary to control the inflow of migrants.
However, the policy has backfired on the UK’s higher education sector, which relies heavily on the income and diversity of international students.
According to the 023 Chartered Association of Business Schools (CABS) Annual Membership Survey, nearly half (44%) of the country’s business schools reported that they missed their non-EU recruitment targets for the 2023/24 academic year.
The survey revealed that the most significant increases in non-EU enrolment came from India, Pakistan, and Ghana, while the most notable decreases came from China and Nigeria.
These two countries have been the key sources of international students for the UK in recent years, but the dependant visa ban has deterred many of them from choosing the UK as their study destination.
The survey also showed that the enrolment of non-EU students at the postgraduate level was more affected than at the undergraduate level.
This suggests that the dependant visa ban has a greater impact on students who are older, married, or have children. One of the most popular postgraduate programmes among international students is the Master in Business Administration (MBA), which has seen a decline in applications and enrolments from Nigerian and Chinese students.
The UK’s loss of international students has been the gain of other countries, such as Canada and Australia, which have more migrant-friendly policies and offer more opportunities for post-study work and permanent residency.
These countries have seen an increase in the demand and supply of MBA programmes, especially from Nigerian and Chinese students, who are looking for quality education and a better quality of life.
In May 2023, the British government announced that international students would be prevented from bringing dependants with them as of January 2024 (unless students are in postgraduate programmes with a research focus).
The Home Office said at the time that almost half a million student visas were issued in 2022 while the number of dependants of overseas students has increased by 750% since 2019, to 136,000 people. The move to limit accompanying dependents was explicitly done to curb net migration, and was described by the Home Secretary as the “single biggest tightening measure a government has ever done.”
The vast majority of respondents to the CABS survey said that they expect to see negative impacts on non-EU enrolment arising from the policy.
According to the report, “It is anticipated that enrolments for MBA programmes will be most affected as MBA students tend to be older and often wish to bring their family with them. Other post-experience programmes, such as Executive Education programmes sponsored by a company, are also expected to be more adversely impacted due to students being more likely to have children.
“Many [respondents] mentioned that the change has prompted them to reassess their school’s strategy which includes shifting MBAs and Master’s programmes to online delivery if not already offered in this mode, and focusing on growing international student numbers at an undergraduate level instead. There is also a sense that the recruitment of business schools in competitor countries such as Australia and Canada is already benefitting from the UK’s decision to ban visas for dependents of students.”
The survey found overall that UK universities remain highly dependent on business school tuition revenue, and that, with the downward pressure on non-EU enrolments for this year in particular, the financial outlook for the year ahead is weakening.
“While 28% and 49% of respondents in 2022 stated that they expected significant and moderate increases in income respectively, these numbers have fallen to 9% and 36% in this year’s edition of the survey. 30% of business schools expect a decrease in income compared to only 2% in last year’s survey,” it added.