In August 2017 the Home Office commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee (an independent body that advises the UK Government on migration issues) to assess the impact of international students in the UK. The briefing paper only examined international students from Higher Education due to the lack of availability of data pertaining to international students from Further Education, English Language schools and Independent schools.
The information contained in this summary is based on the actual briefing paper, which can be accessed by the link provided:
The number of international students entering the UK
The UK is a popular study destination for international students and every year thousands of international students enter the UK with a study-related visa. The latest data by the ONS International Passenger Survey, which publishes information on the number of migrants entering the UK at any given time, showed that 139,000 international students had arrived in the UK, for a period of one year or more, in the 12 months to March 2017.
A total of 213,729 study-related visas were granted in the 12 months to June 2017, an increase of 4% on the previous year; and 142,128 long-term study-related visas, excluding dependants, were granted in the 12 months to March 2017 – an increase of 5% from the earlier year. The briefing paper further shows that the majority (around 80%) of study-related visas were granted to higher education students, which had increased from 50% in the 12 months to June 2011. However, the number and share of international students at territory or further education institutions had decreased considerably from 35% in 2011 but had then increased to 7% in the 12 months to June 2017.
The action taken by international students following the end of their visa was also focused on. The briefing paper highlighted that 69% of international students who migrated on a long-term visa and whose visa or extension of leave had expired in 2016-2017 had left the UK in time before the expiration of their visa. Furthermore, 26% of international students had opted to extend their visa in order to remain in the UK for further study or for other reasons such as employment. Yet a minority of 4% of non-EU students whose visas were due to expire in 2016-17 had no evidence of leaving the UK. The briefing paper emphasised that this did not necessarily mean that they had outstayed their visas.
Despite the overall high figures, international student migration has actually declined in comparison to the other reasons for which foreigners enter the UK. In a one-year period from March 2009-2010, a drop of 235,000 (40%) was seen, registering 24% for the latest period. The decline was attributable to operational and policy changes. Specifically, between May 2010 and October 2014, 836 UK educational providers were stripped of their licences in response to a clampdown on abuse of the student visa route.
The number of international students living in the UK
According to the data by The Higher Education Statistics Agency, there are 2.3 million international students in higher education in the UK, of which 14% are non-EU students (around 310,000) and 6% are EU students (around 130,000).
Additionally, whilst 38% of postgraduate students are international students, 29% are non-EU students and only 9% are EU students.
It was further found that international students were mostly found to be at Russell Group Universities rather than the so-called Post-1992 Universities. Russell Group Universities make up 24 “world-class research-intensive universities”[i] whilst Post-1992 Universities comprise those new universities created by John Major’s government in 1992. The average number of international students was almost 7,500 for Russell Group Universities in comparison with an average of just over 3,000 for Post-1992 Universities. An average of just over 1,500 accounted for all other universities.
The share of international students was found to differ markedly by subject areas. Subjects such as Business and Administrative Studies, and Engineering and Technology were popular amongst international students, whereas subjects allied to Medicine, Biological Sciences and Education were more likely to be studied by indigenous students.
The briefing paper notes that foreign students’ greatest impact is their monetary contribution to the UK economy. This may not seem entirely surprising since university fees for international students are set higher than for UK students. Further boosts to the UK economy come from foreign students’ outlay on food, accommodation, leisure and travel. A recent study by Universities UK, a representative organisation for UK universities, suggests that in 2014-2015 international students generated £25.8 billion in gross output for the UK economy. Universities UK also found that “on- and off-campus spending by international students and their visitors support 206,600 full-time equivalent jobs nationally”. Alongside this financial contribution, international students are said to also bring social and cultural benefits to the UK. According to a paper entitled, ‘Russell Group response to Home of Commons Education Committee injury: The impact of exiting the EU on Higher Education’, UK students are believed to benefit from “learning in an internationally diverse environment as they experience different values and beliefs, [thus] increasing their intercultural awareness”[ii]. The paper further highlighted the benefits of learning alongside students from around the world in developing “social skills and networks”[iii] and preparing “UK students in multicultural Britain for work and travel overseas, and in particular for future collaborative work and business activity with overseas partners’ markets essential for the UK’s global ambitions”[iv].
Conversely, a recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has indicated that this financial fillip may come at the expense of increased pressure on the nation’s education and training system, as well as on the housing market and public services. Even so, EU students were found to make lighter use of education, healthcare and social services than the average UK resident.
Staying on in the UK
With the tightening in 2007 of the immigration rules for post-study work and the UK’s recession post-2008, a decline in the number of international students staying in the UK after their studies was indicated. The briefing paper states that the events above could have reduced the incentive for students to remain and seek work in the UK. Whilst there was a fall of 31% of international students remaining in the UK between 2004 and 2010, in 2015 29% of total grants were for international students remaining in the UK permanently and seeking work.
The Migration Action Committee has made it clear in their briefing paper that more work is required to improve the quality of available data to deepen the evidence base on the impact of student migration on the UK economy. Therefore, the figures supplied by the Migration Action Committee in their briefing paper may need to be taken with a ‘pinch of salt’ for the time being in understanding the impact international students have on the UK.
With Brexit shadowing the UK, the figures the Migration Action Committee have used in the briefing paper could see a drop. Whilst EU students are still able to enter the UK for study purposes, the study shows that non-EU students have already begun to turn away from the UK and consider other countries with renowned universities, such as the USA and Australia. Additionally, Nigel Carrington, vice-chancellor of University of the Arts in London, has seen indications that some EU students sense that they’re now ‘less welcome’ than before, with a small but notable drop in the number taking up university places[v]. The actual impact Brexit will have on the number of international students entering the UK to study is of course yet to be seen, but Brexit, when it happens, will likely see the number of international students entering the UK decrease.
[i] Russell Group, ‘Our universities’, < http://russellgroup.ac.uk/about/our-universities/>, accessed: 8th January 2018
[ii] Russell Group, ‘Russell Group response to House of Commons Education Committee inquiry: The impact of exiting the EU on Higher Education’, page 5< https://russellgroup.ac.uk/media/5448/russell-group-response-to-hoc-education-committee-inquiry-the-impact-of-exiting-the-european-union-on-higher-education-november-2016.pdf>, accessed: 7th January 2018
[v] Tess Reidy, ‘Anxious international students turn away from UK’, (4th January 2017, The Guardian), <https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/jan/04/anxious-international-students-turn-away-from-uk>, accessed: 7th January 2018