There are surprising parallels between the once substantial coal export trade of the United Kingdom and present-day international student recruitment to its higher education sector. This article uses the history of the coal trade to highlight two points. The first is that onshore international education has a particularly favourable impact on the U.K. balance of payments. The second is that the global education market is characterised by a number of features that could ultimately prove highly detrimental to the growth in U.K. inward student migration. Recent attempts to reinforce Britain’s market position by means of a more coordinated trade strategy are thus timely. Even so, the article concludes that long-run forecasts of foreign demand for U.K. university places should be treated with caution.