The question of whether international students should continue to be included in net migration figures continues to dominate political debate in the UK.
A new report released today by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and Kaplan International Pathways reveals that the benefits of international students to the UK economy are, in fact, ten times greater than their costs.
The report – The costs and benefits of international students by parliamentary constituency – finds the gross benefits of hosting international students in the UK amount to £22.6billion.
By comparison, the public costs (for services such as education, healthcare and social security) incurred from hosting international students are tiny – totalling just £2.3billion.
Subtracting these costs from the benefits reveals the net impact of hosting international students in the UK totals £20.3billion.
Broken down, this means each student from the EU brings in £68,000 to the UK economy, while each international student from elsewhere in the world contributes £95,000. That equates to a gain of £310 per UK resident.
What is more, the economic benefits of international students are felt throughout the entire country, with international students contributing £31.3 million on average per parliamentary constituency.
The constituency benefiting the most from international participation in UK higher education is Sheffield Central, where international students generate £226million for the local economy. Other constituencies in the top ten can be found in Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford, Manchester, London, Liverpool, Cambridge and Birmingham – all experiencing net gains per resident of between £1,200 and £2,000.
The capital cities of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland also benefit significantly from an international student presence. The study finds international students generate £151million in Cardiff Central, £135million in Glasgow Central and £29million in Belfast South.
Stop counting international students as immigrants and focus on promoting a more positive message to the outside world
London is a clear winner when it comes to gains from international students. The report shows international students generate £4.64 billion for the UK capital, while contributing £2.44billion to the wider South East economy.
All regions of England profit substantially from having international students in their midst – with gains from £0.98billion experienced in the North East up to £1.95billion in the West Midlands. This is comparable to the £1.94billion gained from hosting international students in Scotland.
The overwhelming economic benefits of international students to the entire UK exposed by this study prove it would be folly to insist that international students be kept in net migration targets. For the UK economy to benefit fully from the revenue international students bring to universities and their surrounding communities, the UK needs an immigration policy that supports and encourages the free movement of students in and out of the country.
The Migration Advisory Committee is currently investigating the impact of international students on behalf of the UK Government. The figures generated by the HEPI/Kaplan study are, therefore, a timely contribution to this review, and prove the costs of international students are small compared to the enormous benefits they bring.
It is also important to remember that these benefits are not just financial. International students bring invaluable diversity to our communities, which has educational and social benefits of its own.
In the wake of this fresh evidence, then, now is the time to see a bold acknowledgement from Government of the immense value of international students to the UK. The first logical step to go about this would be to stop counting international students as immigrants and to focus on promoting a more positive message to the outside world – one that shows international students that they are valued and welcomed on UK shores.
Dr Diana Beech is Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Higher Education Policy Institute