International students in London consume just £530m in public spending, according to the report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and business membership organisation London First, which combines primary research with data from the Higher Education Statistics Authority.
“There has been considerable debate over the economic value of international students”
This is compared to £2.8bn in spending on tuition fees, living costs and income from visiting friends and family, challenging fears that international students are a drain on public services.
“While politicians recognise the importance of international students, there has been considerable debate over the economic value,” noted Julia Onslow-Cole, head of global immigration at PwC. “The £2.3bn benefit of international students illustrates there is a huge amount at stake.”
The report urges the government to collect more hard data on which to base immigration targets and echoes industry stakeholders in calling for international students to be removed from net migration figures.
“We were concerned about the tone of the immigration debate, the government’s anti-immigration rhetoric and their immigration policy being based on an arbitrary target rather than hard evidence,” Mark Hilton, programme director, education and employment at London First, told The PIE News.
“Government were also beginning to challenge the view that international students are a benefit to the UK and were talking about them in terms of costs – cost to transport, housing and public services,” he said.
It also calls on the government to treat British-educated overseas talent as “an asset rather than treated as a liability”, which would include expanding post study work rights.
This recommendation stems from the findings of a survey of 1,352 students and alumni conducted for the study, which lay bare the difficulties many international students have with the UK immigration system.
The biggest complaint was the complexity of the system, with 54% saying their experience had been adversely affected.
Application fees (cited by 52%) and documentation (48%), work restrictions (39%) and processing time (36%) were also mentioned.
Despite these findings, 76% said they felt welcome during their stay, and 60% said they would be more likely to do business with the UK as a result of studying in the country.
However, Alex Proudfoot, chief executive of the independent FE and HE body Study UK, urged authorities not to become “complacent” about attracting international students.
“Administrative procedures that may seem reasonable in Whitehall can be very off-putting to a young person travelling halfway around the world”
“The government needs to take a holistic view of the international student experience and make sure that there are no unnecessary obstacles or disincentives to choosing the UK,” he told The PIE News.
“Administrative procedures that may seem reasonable in Whitehall can be very off-putting to a young person travelling halfway around the world to a foreign country.”
Gary Davies, chair of the London Universities International Partnership, which supported the study, said the results were unsurprising as the higher education sector is “fighting the aggressive narrative from the Home Office that now spreads around the world quickly and easily through digital communication”.
“We hope that this sort of evidence will help policy makers to rethink their approach and, at the very least, level the playing field for us with our competitors around the world,” he commented.
And although the report echoes what many stakeholders have said in the past, “to have a business voice saying this so clearly and so loudly could be extremely significant”, noted Dominic Scott, CEO of the UK Council for International Student Affairs.
“It is great to see this report coming out, and so soon after the election when ministers and policy makers will be reflecting on the way ahead,” he told The PIE News.