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New analysis of language learners and international students in the UK education system

13 Jul 2016

  1. Media Coverage

International students contribute almost 13% of university revenues, and school children with English as an additional language (EAL) overcome their initial achievement gap by age 16, according to two new analyses published today by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford.

Two new briefings from the Migration Observatory illustrate how migration has shaped the composition of school and university students over the past two decades.

The analysis of primary and secondary schools, conducted by Oxford University’s Professor Steve Strand, examines the commonly used classification of children with English as an additional language. Not all EAL students are migrants. In fact, many are born in the UK and there is evidence that a majority speak very good English.

The analysis shows that EAL students have lower levels of educational achievement when they start school, compared to pupils recorded as having English as their first language. However, they make faster progress and the gap is overcome by age 16. Pupils who arrive at an early age tend to have higher achievement in secondary school than those arriving after age 11.

The research finds no evidence that the presence of EAL students affects the performance of classmates whose first language was English.

Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “Migration has clearly had an enormous impact on the composition of school pupils in the UK, particularly in London. This presents a logistical challenge for schools and local authorities, but so far there is no evidence that the outcomes that ultimately matter most – the performance of children in schools – have been affected.”

For UK universities, the major migration-related development of the past decade has been the growing number of international students from outside of the European Union. In the nine years between the 2005-6 and 2014-15 academic years, the share of higher education institutions’ income that came from non-EU student fees grew by two thirds, from 7.7% to 12.7%. Non-EU students paid tuition fees of £4.2 billion in the 2014-15 academic year.

There is relatively little evidence on some of the broader impacts of international students on the UK, however, such as impacts on the country’s research environment, its labour and housing markets, or cooperation with students’ countries of origin.

Sumption added: “It is still too early to forecast the migration-related impacts the UK’s decision to leave the EU on the UK education system. We will not know for some time how and whether migration policies will change, which makes planning ahead difficult.”


For further information contact:
Rob McNeil, Head of Media and Communications, The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford.
e: robert.mcneil@compas.ox.ac.uk;  Tel: 01865 274568;  Mob: 07500 970081

About the Migration Observatory

  • Based at the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford, the Migration Observatory provides independent, authoritative, evidence-based analysis of data on migration and migrants in the UK, to inform media, public and policy debates, and to generate high quality research on international migration and public policy issues. The Observatory’s analysis involves experts from a wide range of disciplines and departments at the University of Oxford.
  • The Migration Observatory is funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, and Unbound Philanthropy.
  • The Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford conducts high quality research in order to develop theory and knowledge, inform policy-making and public debate, and engage users of research within the field of migration. For further details see the COMPAS website: www.compas.ox.ac.uk/.


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Rob McNeil

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