International College
Student pathways to The University of Sheffield

International students in the UK - what do we know?

Posted 28 August 2015
Sheffield international college students

Britain is renowned for its teaching standards, and it's home to some of the world’s leading universities. So it’s no surprise to find that it attracts hundreds of thousands of international students each year.

But who are these international students? What are their hopes, where are they from, and how do they fare once they’ve completed their studies here in the UK?

Thanks to bodies like the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), we have lots of data relating to international students in the UK, and we can get a good understanding of the nations that are most drawn to UK universities.

How many non-UK domiciled students are there in the UK?

  • According to the latest figures from HESA, more than 435,000 international students began a course in the UK in 2013/14 – that’s almost 19% of all students in UK higher education.
  • The UK is really popular – OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) statistics show that Britain attracts a large proportion of the world’s international students, with a market share of around 13% in 2011. That puts the UK second in the world, with the US taking the top spot on 16.5%.
  • What about Sheffield? – The University of Sheffield’s International College currently teaches over 5,500 international students, who come from over 117 countries worldwide.

Where do international students in the UK come from?

  • China, India, Nigeria, the USA and the EU account for the largest numbers of international students in the UK right now.
  • The biggest proportion of international students in the UK comes from outside the EU.
  • The EU connection – EU students have traditionally been the second-highest international student group in the UK, with between 60,000 and 70,000 EU students studying in the UK between 2008 and 2012.
  • Germany tops the EU student group – according to the latest figures, around 3.4% EU students come from Germany.

Top ten EU countries in 2013:

  • Germany
  • France
  • Greece
  • Cyprus
  • Italy
  • Ireland
  • Spain
  • Romania
  • Bulgaria
  • Poland
  • Asia leads the way – in 2013 the number of EU students dropped to just under 60,000, and Asian students became the largest international student group in the UK for the first time. Around 192,000 Asian students began degree programmes in 2013/14. The biggest proportion of Asian students in the UK are from China.
  • Indian students are the second-largest non-EU international student group, comprising 5.3% of international students, despite their number declining by around 25% since 2011-2012, according to Hefce, coinciding with visa changes.

Top ten non-EU countries in 2013:

  • China
  • India
  • Nigeria
  • USA
  • Malaysia
  • Hong Kong
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Pakistan
  • Canada
  • Thailand

What do they study?

  • Most international students study full-time degree courses rather than part time.
  • 22.9% of full-time students in the UK are international students
  • 7.8% of part-time students in the UK are international students


  • Female international students slightly outnumber male international students, by almost 10,000
  • In full-time study there are more female students than male; 198,000 female, 189,000 male
  • Part-time study is more popular with male international students; 24,000 male, 22,000 female

After graduation

Figures on international graduate performance are difficult to track down, but a Department for Business & Skills report from 2012 gives us some interesting insights into the benefits of UK study for students from overseas.

  • In their third year after graduation, 95% of the class of 2008 are employed or studying
  • Six months after graduation, for those in employment, 85% of graduates are in graduate-level jobs
  • In the first year after graduation, of those who are working, 22% are in the UK

Higher salaries for international graduates

UK-educated international graduates achieve markedly higher average salaries than in their home country. Recent graduates returning to work in the following home countries received the following average starting salaries:

  • China - £9,675
  • India - £13,214
  • USA - £28,055

These compare to average starting salaries in China, India, and the USA of £4,152, £4,394, and £24,514 respectively.

You can find out more about the international student experience in the UK via the University of Sheffield’s We Are International campaign.