Almost half of first year students and applicants ‘disappointed’ at reduction in EU and international students at universities

According to research from UPP, almost half of first year students and applicants (45%) say they would be disappointed if there is a reduction in EU and international students at their university – with nearly 1 in 10 (9%) saying they would be ‘offended’ at the prospect.

The research, part of UPP’s Annual Student Experience Survey and undertaken by Youth Sight, shows that those from, or planning to attend, Russell Group universities were more likely to report that they would be disappointed at the potential outcome (50% Russell Group universities vs. 43% non-Russell Group universities). The survey, in its sixth year, goes on to show that a further 1 in 5 first year students and applicants claim they would feel as if they were ‘missing out’ if there were fewer EU and international students on campus.

Whilst the potential impact of Brexit on higher education, student numbers and the future of EU and international first-year students in British universities is still unclear, early figures released by Ucas in February this year indicated that EU applications were down by 7% (3,150) for courses starting this year*. Following the recent release of A-Level results, figures from Ucas show there to be a 3% decrease in placed applicants from the EU (excluding the UK).**

Overall, the UPP research finds that meeting a variety of people at university is an important part of a good, non-academic experience for 43% of first-year students and applicants.

Jon Wakeford, Director of Strategy and Communications at UPP and a member of the Higher Education Commission, says: “These results show that first year students and applicants value the opportunities universities offer to expand their horizons, and that, clearly, meeting with students from different countries with varying backgrounds forms a significant part of the student experience. Students want to benefit from a rewarding student experience and want to live and learn in quality shared spaces that do more than just provide a place to sleep.”

Josephine Hansom, Director at Youth Sight, says: “We leave university a different person to when we arrived and the people we meet shape us as much as what we study. This survey consistently demonstrates the importance of the social side of university, and shows that meeting a variety of people is important to a substantial amount of first-year students and applicants. Only the smallest minority of students felt this was a welcome development.”

Meanwhile, the research shows that first-year students have been struggling to adjust to their new life at university, particularly young women. Nearly 9 in 10 (87%) of first-year students say they find it difficult to cope with social or academic aspects of university life. The data finds that young women find it tougher to manage one or more of the issues asked about – 91% compared to just over four-fifths of young men (82%). Around 3 in 5 (59%) of first-year students say they find the stress of studying difficult to cope with – increasing to 67 percent of females compared to 48 percent of males. Meanwhile, 44 percent of first-year students report feeling lonely or isolated, rising to 51 percent of females compared to 35 percent of males.

Living independently is also a challenge for 22 percent of first-year students, while 1 in 10 first year students report difficulties in coping with alcohol or drug use.

“Student mental health is an extremely important issue and UPP recognises the unique difficulties that can arise for students during the transition to university,” says Jon Wakeford. “Mental health support initiatives are an active method for addressing this transition but need to be more widely used, recognising the social weight of expectation that students so often find themselves dealing with.”

Elsewhere in UPP’s findings, figures show that the average proportion of first-year students and applicants who are willing to pay more tuition for a job that guarantees a starting salary of £24,000 has significantly increased. According to this year’s research, first-year students would now pay on average £2,064 – a full £612 more than 2016.

“This research helps us to understand the vital importance of employability to both applicants and students. It also speaks to, perhaps, students’ anxiety about future job prospects and securing a livable wage,” says Jon. “They recognise that higher education delivers excellent outcomes on average, but they also want to ensure they benefit from a rewarding student experience and a fulfilling career after their time at university.”

To view findings from the Student Experience Survey, please click here.