The survey of 4,043 respondents also found over three-quarters would agree with the statement that international students should stay and work in the UK before returning home.
Conducted by ComRes for Universities UK, the research crucially found that people’s attitudes towards the amount of international students in the country were different before realising their economic contribution and the jobs they generate.
“The general public … can see the benefits from letting students from the across the world to enter our workforce”
Twenty-four per cent said they would like to see more international students in the UK, which reached as high as 30% for respondents in London.
Meanwhile, just over one in 10 (13%) respondents wished to see less international students in the country.
However, more than 20% of respondents held that belief before they were told the economic impact of international students to the country. Similarly, just 12% of those surveyed wanted to see more international students in the country before knowing the economic gains.
The latest figures from Universities UK illustrate international students are worth over £25bn to the UK economy, supporting the equivalent of 206,600 full-time jobs across the country.
Only a quarter of total respondents said they consider international students to be immigrants – 25% for EU students and 26% for those outside the EU.
More respondents considered academics and researchers coming to work at UK universities as immigrants – 38% if they’re from the EU and 41% if they’re not.
“While the UK government continues to count international students as long-term migrants in its target to reduce migration, there is a continued pressure to reduce their numbers, adding to the perception that they are not welcome here,” said Julia Goodfellow, president of Universities UK.
International students’ inclusion in the net migration figures has been a widely-debated topic in the UK higher education sector, with many UK politicians supporting the call to have them removed from the count. Prime Minister Theresa May, however, has remained firm on the issue.
On the topic of post-study work, the survey found that three quarters of respondents believe international graduates should stay and work in the UK before returning home, in order to contribute to the economy, as opposed to 25% who said they should immediately return home.
“Why wouldn’t we want Scottish employers to receive the benefit of their skills for a few years?”
The highest proportion of those who agree with post-study work options for international students were from Scotland, where 83% of respondents agreed with the statement.
Andrea Nolan, convener of Universities Scotland, said this figure should “give the Home Office something to reflect on”.
“The general public, like everyone in the higher education sector and business community can see the benefits from letting students from the across the world to enter our workforce,” she said.
“We spend years educating international students, why wouldn’t we want Scottish employers to receive the benefit of their skills for a few years?”
The research was conducted online across five days at the end of March.