How badly would cuts to international student visas hurt UK city economies?

Coventry is one of the cities that would be hit hardest by student visa cuts. Image: cmglee/Wikimedia Commons.

News that the government is looking to halve international student visas will no doubt be a concern for the higher education sector, and to those worried about the UK’s poor export performance. But it’s also likely to have big implications for a number of cities across the country.

Any restriction on visas, if applied tomorrow, would apply only to those students outside of the EU. However, this may change when the UK exits the EU, and so in the following analysis we look at all international students to look at the wider effect it might have.

In 2014-15, there were around 440,000 students from abroad studying in the UK – one-fifth of all students at UK higher education institutions (not including the Open University). Chinese students made up by far the largest share of these students, accounting for 20 per cent of all international students. To put this into perspective, Indian students made up the second biggest group of foreign students, accounted for 4 per cent in total.

Of course, these students were not evenly distributed across the UK, with London unsurprisingly the most popular destination, attracting a quarter of international students. However, as a share, Coventry had the largest number of foreign students – the table below shows that almost a third of those studying in the city were from outside of the UK. As was the case in most cities, China was the most common country of origin, with a quarter of all foreign students in Coventry being Chinese. Ipswich, on the other hand, had the lowest share, with just 2 per cent of students from abroad.

Source: HESA Admissions. Note: Cities with campuses of fewer than 500 students were excluded from the analysis.

Cuts to student visas could have big implications for cities such as Coventry, Exeter and Sunderland. Universities UK estimated that foreign students were worth a total of £10.7bn to the UK economy in 2011-12, through fees and money spent by the students in their time here.

Taking this figure and applying it to the location of foreign students would mean that they were worth £380m to the Coventry economy, £123m the Exeter economy and £83m to the Sunderland one. In Coventry this was equivalent to over 6 per cent of its total output in 2011-12.

The current political climate means that talking about visa restrictions is popular with the electorate. But such decisions will have an economic impact too, and may well hurt the very places the government is attempting to help through its place-based industrial strategy. And this, surely, would be counterproductive.

You can see more analysis on migration and student and new graduate mobility in the Centre for Cities’ Great British Brain Drain report.


Paul Swinney is senior economist at the Centre for Cities. This article was originally published on the think tank’s blog.

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The Delhi Metro: How do you build a transport system for 26m people?

Indraprastha station in 2006. Image: Getty.

“Thou hath not played rugby until thou hath tried to get onto a Delhi Metro in rush hour,” a wise Yogi once said.

If you’ve never been on New Delhi’s Metro, your mind might conjure up the the conventional image of Indian trains: tawdry carriages, buckets of sweat, people hanging out of windows and the odd holy cow wandering around for good measure.

Well, no. The Delhi Metro is actually one of the most marvellously sophisticated, affordable, timely, and practical public transportation systems out there. On a 45C day in the Indian summer, many a traveller has shed tears of joy on entering the spacious, air-conditioned carriages.

Above ground, Delhi is a sprawling metropolis of the scariest kind: 26m people, three times the population of London, churn and grind through Delhi itself.

The National Capital Region, an area which includes Delhi and its surrounding satellite cities – now victim of its never-ending urban sprawl – has an estimated population of almost 50m. So how do you tie such a huge population together?

The map; click to expand. Image: Delhi Metro Rail.

Motorised vehicles won’t do it alone. For one, air pollution is a horrific problem in Delhi, as it is across India. Last November, the government declared a state of emergency when the Indian capital was engulfed by a toxic, choking fog so thick that you could barely see several metres in front of you, drawing allusions to the great Victorian fogs in London.

Then there’s Delhi’s famous traffic. Twenty-five years ago, the travel writer William Dalrymple observed that you could reduce the Delhi’s road laws to one simple idea: the largest vehicle always had the right of way. The traffic has tamed somewhat in the 21st century, but the number of vehicles has multiplied again and again, and it’s not uncommon for people to be stuck in four-hour traffic jams when they try to traverse the mighty city.

Enter the Delhi Metro – a huge network of 164 over- and underground stations – and by any account, a titan of civil engineering and administration.

The numbers are simply colossal. Every day the metro serves on average almost 3m people. Annually, it carries around 1bn.

In a country where intercity trains still turn up a day late, the Delhi Metro is extraordinarily timely. On the major lines, trains will come every several minutes. The trains are extraordinary speedy, and you’ll reach your destination in a fraction of the time it would take for you to drive the distance.

The minimum fare is 10 rupees (12p); the maximum fare, to and from the airport, is 50 (60p).

The evolution of the metro. Image: Terramorphus/Wikimedia Commons.

Construction of the metro system began in 1998, with the first section completed in late 2002. Keen to avoid the catastrophic corruption and bureaucratic mismanagement which plagued eastern city of the Kolkata Metro, developers took advice from Hong Kong’s high-tech system There have been several stages of development to add extra lines; more is planned. By 2020, it is hoped that the 135 miles of line will have increased to over 300.  

One thing quite striking about the metro is its women’s only carriages at the rear and the front of the train, marked by pink signs. Sexual assault and harassment has been a horrific problem on Delhi’s transport systems. Women can of course go anywhere on the train – but men who violate the carriage system will have to deal with the scathing anger of the entire pink carriage.


One of the under-discussed impacts of widespread and well-used public transportation systems is their propensity to break down social and class barriers over time. As the London Tube began to be used more and more in early 20th century London, people from completely different walks of life and classes began to brush shoulders and share the same air.

The story is similar in Delhi. The necessity of the metro helps to break down old caste and class divisions. Of course, many elite Delhiites would not be seen dead on the metro, and choose their private chauffeur over brushing shoulders with the common man. But slowly and surely, the times are a changing.

What’s more, the Delhi Metro system is one of the greenest around. Six years ago, the Metro was the first railway system in the world to be awarded carbon credits from the United Nations for helping to reduce pollution in the capital by an estimated 640,000 tonnes every year.  

All praises sung and said, however, at peak times it’s less mind the gap and more mind your ribs – as a fifth of humanity seems to try to get on and off the train at once.

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