Over the last six months there have been several incidents that from the outside could suggest international students are no longer welcome in the UK. First there was the Malaysian student Ashraf Haziq who was the victim of one of the most shocking videos to come out of the London riots.
More recently there was the tragic murder of Indian student Anuj Bivde in Manchester on Boxing Day. Similarly, though clearly on a lesser scale, there was the symptomatic story that came out of Plymouth last week of shop keepers banning foreign students from entering in groups.
On top of this, there is currently the perceived notion that the British government is trying to make it harder for international students to gain entry to the UK with the introduction of harsher visa laws. This and the recent incidents together make it easy to assume that there is a growing trend in Britain against international students.
However, the students themselves do not seem to realise this. International student numbers have consistently risen over the last decade and figures released by UCAS last week show applications from non-EU students are up again. Despite violence, visa scare stories, and reduced university funding, international students are still flocking to the UK in record numbers. So, the question that has to be asked, is, why?
Ultimately, the answer is a simple one. Just as it always has been, students come to study in the UK simply because of the quality and reputation of the universities. For all the complaints about falling standards, Britain is still the number two destination in the world for Higher Education. Only the U.S. has more quality universities, and their international fees make ours pale in comparison.
Despite this, surely the threat of a violent, intolerant country would put prospective students off coming regardless of the quality of the institutions on offer? Well, yes, it probably would, but Britain is far from intolerant towards international students. Though clearly tragic, the recent incidents are, at the moment, very much isolated events. For every student horror story there are a thousand stories to counter it. In the last year I have met hundreds of international students, and the biggest gripes range from excessive paperwork, to confusing exam timetables. The threat of violence has not been mentioned once.
Maintaining the Balance
So students come to study in Britain because the universities are world class and the society is welcoming and tolerant. Hardly a revolutionary conclusion I think you'll agree. However, both of these hard earned reputations can very quickly be lost. All it would take is for these few isolated incidents to become a worrying trend, or for universities to make major cuts that began to affect the quality of education they offer. It has taken decades and decades to form the reputation of excellence. It would take one year of poor standards and repeated cases of violence to eradicate all this.
Thankfully, the outrage over the incidents of violence, both in the press and in the general public, shows that Britain is still very protective of visitors to the country. For now I think there is little concern over foreign students being hounded out of the country on any scale, let alone a large one. However, the continued cuts to Higher Education are clearly worrying, and the knock-on effects are obvious. Universities lose funding and therefore standards slip, meaning they are able to attract fewer international students. This loss of income means standards slip further, and even fewer students make the trip to study in the UK. The snowball can quickly gather pace, growing larger all the time.
Ultimately, for all the concerns about violence, increased fees and harsher visa restrictions, if British universities maintain their quality, they will maintain their reputation, and will continue to entice precious international students.