It comes as new research conducted by UUKi, HEPI and Kaplan showed that international students contribute £42bn to the UK economy during their time in the country.
At an event showcasing the research, vice principal for international at the University of Dundee, Wendy Alexander, made the comments on a discussion panel.
“This research only looks at the value of students to the UK during the time they’re studying, but does not look at their longer term financial contribution back in their home country or in the UK,” she said.
“We are currently in the realm of guesswork around where people’s careers take them, and I think in all honesty it is more vital than ever, because it is clear that students from EU-sending countries do want to avail themselves on the graduate route – more so than some of their predecessors did in the past,” Alexander continued.
Also speaking on the panel, economist Alan Manning pointed out that the current graduate route has “altered the balance between work and study”.
“We will have students who will be prepared to pay even if the qualifications are totally worthless,” he said.
“For example, you can do a one year master’s for £15,000, with another £3,000 in visa charges. Even just the minimum wage, you’re going to be able to make £50,000 over the course of your study year plus the graduate visa – more than double that if you had a dependant.
“What that means is that the graduate route just becomes an attractive economic proposition,” Manning claimed.
However, Manning also criticised government “flip-flopping” on issues surrounding dependants and migration figures, calling on them to “make a decision and stick to it”.
Alexander agreed that there had been a shift in the balance on the graduate route, but that the UK is “alongside every single major anglophone country in the world of trying to meet that demand with the soft power benefits of it,” she said.
“We will have students who will be prepared to pay even if the qualifications are totally worthless”
“It would be a mistake to step off the bus again,” Alexander insisted.
Government indecision was also called out by international student Sara Kozáková, who is a co-chair of UKCISA’s advisory group.
“The UK was trying to increase the number of international students, which we all know has been achieved and has been a huge success – way ahead of deadlines,” Kozáková said.
“But now all I’m reading in the media is , ‘so what do we do now with this many students? Are we even able to accommodate that?’ So that also just doesn’t really add up.
“I don’t feel comfortable that the UK doesn’t know what they want,” she added.
EU students were found to bring a net economic impact of £125,000 per student, compared to £96,000 from non-EU students. Kozáková stressed that EU students still want to be in the UK.
“There are so many issues that European students who are already here in the UK face, that HEIs are just not working to address. So I don’t think we should be recruiting more if we can’t solve issues for students who are already in the country.
“Don’t forget that we are such a diverse group of people… see us and hear us; even if we come from the same country, each one of us has a completely different story, a completely different skill set – and we enriched this country way beyond just the money,” she said.