We are living in an increasingly globalised world. Today, money and trade is flowing freely across many borders, as is knowledge and skills. Globalised and diverse classrooms and educational spaces have now become the norm. And top universities are now expected to prepare graduates for what is a globally competitive job market.
I came to the UK due to, what I perceived, was an impeccable reputation and long and prestigious history of quality education. I expected to come to a country that was proud of this reputation, opening its doors and classrooms to eager learners from around the world. But since my first year as a student in the UK, my confidence in the UK Higher Education system has been gradually eroded. I began to see successive anti-international student policies being introduced that make life harder for students like me. I now question whether the politicians calling for these policies actually understand the scale of the damage they are creating.
The UK amounts to 11% of the global market share in international education. This makes the UK the 2nd highest destination after the United States, which has a global market share of 22%. The latest figures estimate that international students contribute over £11billion per year and provide 170,000 jobs to the UK economy and education sector.
But despite all this, the recently published Conservative manifesto does not seem to reflect the importance of international students to the UK. Instead, we are hearing that the Conservative manifesto commits to cutting net migration figures to the tens of thousands, a target they are still far off. In addition to this, the manifesto reaffirms the inclusion of international students in the net migration figures. This, by default, would mean that a Conservative government would be looking to reduce the numbers of international students in order to meet their unrealistic target.
My question to Theresa May is: How can you expect to reduce the number of international students in a global market that is expanding and growing? It's like telling a booming industry that it must continue to grow but without benefiting from a global market of trade or imports. This doesn't sound 'strong and stable', it is absurd!
All of the changes proposed are in the context of international students already facing an uphill battle - paying significantly higher tuition fees than UK students, but then we struggle to access proper academic or pastoral support. We know that international students face an academic attainment gap and that we struggle without access to culturally competent counselling. In addition to this this there is police registration, expectation of creating a biometric identity cards, attendance monitoring and paying an in increased NHS surcharge (which the manifesto pledges to raise even further).
The benefits international students bring to the UK are cultural and social as well as economic. The presence of international students on UK campuses enriches the student experience and offers the valuable opportunities of an international education experience and increased intercultural awareness to home students who may not otherwise be able to experience them. A recent NUS report showed that the majority of UK students said their degrees would suffer if international student numbers dropped.
The prospect of a Conservative majority in the next Parliament may present numerous fresh challenges for international students. However, if we work together we can make changes for the better, improving international students' experiences while keeping Britain firmly in a competitive position in the global higher education marketplace.
Yinbo Yu currently sits on the National Executive Committee of NUS and will take up the role of NUS International Students' Officer in July 2017