More than 440,000 students from outside the UK come to study at British universities every year, and they have a transformative impact on both the places where they study, and the places they live.
As new research published by the Higher Education Policy Institute and Kaplan shows, the gross benefits of the UK hosting international students stands at £22.6bn – dwarfing the costs of hosting them by 10:1. This works out as £310 per every UK resident.
Universities UK recently calculated that international students contribute £25.6bn to the UK economy per year – with over £5bn of this being spent on off-campus goods and services. Their spending is such that they support over 200,000 jobs in the UK, in many of the cities where this work is absolutely critical to the local economy.
It is often thought that London is the main beneficiary of international students, but the benefits of international students are being felt across the UK.
Coventry is a particularly good example of this.
A city with a proud history, the number of international students there has been steadily increasing in recent years, with the number of international students from outside of the EU increasing by over 2,000 since 2010, and 7,900 non-EU international students enrolling in courses in 2016.
As the editor of the Coventry Telegraph Keith Perry put it to readers: “Money follows money and the student pound can entice the investors and developers, which brings more of us back to our city centre rather than heading out to Solihull.
“Before you know it, we might even be able to persuade John Lewis, the store you tell us you want, to pitch up in Coventry.”
The array of businesses in Coventry which benefit from international students is something which is replicated throughout the country. One local taxi firm described the increasing number of international students in the city as “an absolute godsend”, while a restaurant owner described international students as “absolutely crucial” to the success of their business.
Across university towns, the impact that international students have on the local economy is widely felt. Be it taxi companies, restaurants, or bars and nightclubs, international students leave a lasting impression on the cities in which they study.
Yet, for all the good that international students bring to UK cities, the number choosing to study at British universities is stalling. At the same time, our global competitors, Canada and Australia, are surging ahead.
The inclusion of students in the government’s net migration target, the difficulties in gaining a student visa as well as the barriers in being able to work after graduating, all account for why this lucrative market of international students is looking elsewhere. The decisions taken by this government in recent years have been interpreted abroad to mean: international students are not welcome in the UK.
While the UK is pulling up the drawbridge, its competitors have been rolling out the red carpet to this market to such an extent that the global higher education market has grown by 34 per cent since 2010. This is a higher education party to which the UK has been invited, but is declining to attend.
It is vital that cities across the UK trumpet the benefits that international students bring to them. Too often, people think of the benefits of international students as being merely in the classroom, whereas the reality is that their benefits are felt throughout a city.
It is true that the UK needs a tough visa regime and strong immigration policy, but polling has consistently shown that the UK public clearly differentiate between international students and long-term migrants. Three quarters of the public do not see students as migrants.
Cities all over the UK – and Coventry is just one example – are crying out for more international students and it is vital that government acts to create a more encouraging visa regime for international students, which promotes UK higher education for what it is: one of our best and most lucrative exports to the world.
Sarah Williamson is a spokeswoman for Destination for Education, a campaign to recruit international students to the UK.