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UK international student contribution soars to £42bn

A landmark report by various stakeholders in the UK has revealed that international students boosted the country’s economy by £41.9bn in the academic year 2021/22.

The report showed that Glasgow Central was the constituency with the highest net impact from international students. Photo: Pexels

The total benefits versus costs imply a ratio of 9.4

The benefits and costs of international higher education students to the UK economy, compiled by Universities UK International, HEPI and Kaplan International Pathways, showed that the corresponding cost of the students to taxpayers was just £4.4bn.

The figure has risen from £31.3bn in the 2018/19 academic year.

The net economic impact of each student is around £98,000, according to the report.

The document comes as more speculation mounts over possible limits on dependants being discussed by the UK government before migration figures are released in late May.

“[International students] offer both a cultural and social benefit to our country, and make a significant contribution to our economy,” said Jamie Arrowsmith, chief executive of UUKi.

“We should be proud that our universities continue to attract students from all over the world. It is vital that the UK remains an open and welcoming destination for international students, and that their contribution is recognised and valued,” he continued.

The total benefits versus costs, according to the report, imply a “benefit-to-cost” ratio of 9.4.

“International students put nearly 10 times more into the economy than they take out – boosting both local and national economic wellbeing,” noted Gavan Conlon, partner at London Economics, which conducted the research.

Examining the cost of hosting international students shows that there has been an increase of over £1bn since 2018/19.

The report says this is largely due to the need to provide public services for both students and dependants, a cost which has also increased per head due to general prices going up, and an increase in the non-EU cohorts.

While EU students are still flocking to UK shores for study, non-EU students provide the overwhelming majority of net impact on the economy – with £33.5bn being generated by non-EU students.

The report mentions Brexit’s “dramatic” impact on the sector, with EU students, who used to make up one-in-four international students in the UK, now only making up one-in-12.

Per non-EU student, the net impact shown in the report was £96,000.

According to the data, this means every 11 non-EU students generate £1m of net impact on the UK economy throughout their study period.

EU students were even higher, with the net impact of each one being around £125,000, meaning every 9 EU students generate the same £1m of net impact during their studies.

“International students put nearly 10 times more into the economy than they take out”

Crucially, the report pointed out that there was a benefit of £58m per parliamentary constituency  – amounting to roughly £560 per citizen of the UK.

Broken down by constituency, Glasgow Central’s international students provided the most net impact per resident at £292m, followed closely by London’s Holborn and St Pancras constituency at £291m.

“This important report makes clear the vital contribution international students make to Scottish society and to our economy,” said Andrea Nolan, convener of Universities Scotland’s International Committee and principal of Edinburgh Napier University.

“The striking element of the report is the findings demonstrating the benefits international students generate across the whole of Scotland,” she added.

Edinburgh East and Aberdeen North were also featured in the top ten constituencies by net impact, with students contributing £268m and £241m respectively.

Also in the top ten were Nottingham South with £271, Sheffield Central with £273m, and Newcastle Upon Tyne East with £264m.

The average net impact in London overall was £131m.

With the report highlighting the highest contribution made by international students ever to the UK economy, stakeholders were firm in their view that any changes to rules on topics like dependants and post-study work would be felt heavily.

“It is vital that [any changes] are based on evidence rather than whim, so this report is designed to strengthen the existing evidence base,” said Nick Hillman, director of HEPI.

“We hope it will be read by every candidate for every major political party in every constituency in the run up to the next election,” he urged.

Linda Cowan, managing director of Kaplan International Pathways, also warned that the success shown in the report is something stakeholders “cannot take for granted”.

“It is vital that [any changes] are based on evidence rather than whim”

She also pointed out that, in the midst of possible changes to the post-study work visa, international students know what they want and “employability skills and careers advice are at the top of their list”.

“We need better data on the employment outcomes of international students, consistent policy, a strong offer, and a unified message of welcome,” Cowan added.

Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, urged the UK government to “work with the sector to ensure the UK remains an attractive destination for those studying around the world, including making sure the graduate route is internationally competitive and helping to promote it in a diverse range of markets.”

“Higher education is one of the UK’s most important and successful exports – but it is truly unique, in that alongside generating a significant economic contribution to the UK our universities have a hugely positive global impact, creating opportunity for millions of learners and helping address some of the most pressing global challenges,” Arrowsmith added.

The report was launched on May 16 at an event in London.

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