It’s August. The likelihood is that you are either a) on holiday in the sun surrounded by boat parties, booze and loud music, b) volunteering on a children’s camp or preserving an ancient Inca site in deepest, darkest Peru, c) working in a pub or d) asleep, but when it’s time to get back into the lecture hall as an international student, what effect are you having on the economy? The answer may surprise a lot of people…
First, let’s start with the numbers (all from 2013-14, the most recent available figures courtesy of the UK Council for International Student Affairs – www.ukcisa.org.uk):
The fact is that the UK (and London in particular), needs international students. A report by business lobby London First and PwC, one of the world’s largest firms of auditors aimed for the first time to economically quantify the costs and benefits of non-EU international students studying at London’s universities to London’s and the UK’s economy.
There has long been an argument centered on anti-immigration rhetoric that close to half a million international students coming to the UK every year put an unnecessary – and to some, unwanted – strain on public services and housing.
That argument, while still being waged, has been proven to be redundant. The report found that non-EU international students contribute £2.8bn to the economy made up of fees (£1.32bn), consumer and subsistence spending (£1.36bn) and £121m from visiting friends and family as well as supporting over 70,000 London jobs. The cost of providing them with public services such as the NHS costs the UK £540m, a net gain of £2.26bn.
The Head of Global Immigration at PwC, Julia Onslow-Cole said: ‘While politicians recognise the importance of international students, there has been considerable debate over the economic value.’
She continued: ‘This is the first study to quantify the benefits of student migration. We need more hard data like this to inform immigration policies and targets. The £2.3bn benefit of international students illustrates there is a huge amount at stake.’
In addition to the obvious financial benefits, 60% of students surveyed suggested that they were ‘more likely’ to do business in and with the UK as a direct result of studying here and in today’s lightning fast global economy, that is not something to be underestimated.
While good news on one hand, the report also offers a word of warning. It’s no secret that the abovementioned anti-immigration rhetoric is gaining a modicum of traction and a third of students interviewed said that the immigration system in the UK is so complex it had a negative impact on their experience of studying here, as did the difficulty in finding employment after finishing degrees.
One of the issues is that non-EU international students are included in the government’s net migration figures and are not, like Australia and Canada, classified as ‘temporary visitors’ hence the anti-immigration rhetoric. There is a real fear that the top students who have the luxury of picking and choosing the best universities around the world will avoid the UK.
We also need to make it easier for students to stay in the UK and work after the completion of their studies. The current rules state that students need to work for a single employer and earn a minimum salary of £20,800.
These are issues the government appear to be taking seriously. The bottom line is that we have some of the finest universities in the world and we need to attract the brightest and the best by offering a far more welcoming and inclusive climate. International students are a huge boon for the UK and they make a valuable and lasting contribution.