International students bring a great deal to the UK and there is no doubt that they are of great significance to both, the UK education sector and economy as a whole.
Contribute to the economy
Not only do they contribute to the intellectual diversity to Britain’s universities, they also contribute billions to the UK economy in expenditure. In fact, expenditure by international students (non-EU) on fees and accommodation alone amounted to £3.8 billion in 2011–12, supporting 137,000 full time-equivalent jobs in the UK. Further, the research shows that 60% of people recognise that students bring money into their local economies.
International students also help boost innovation & creativity by bringing skills and talent to the UK. They help sustain the UK’s research base particularly in areas where the UK currently has a shortage of skills such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In fact, international students account for over 40% of UK postgraduate students and 50% of those doing full-time research degrees.
International students want some work experience before going back
The prospect of post-study work is an important driver for many international students in deciding where to study and our international competitors such as US, Australia and Canada are competing to secure a greater share of this rapidly increasing student market by implementing bold strategies like offering boosted post-study work opportunities. A report published by Universities UK highlights that such strategies are making visible differences in the latest figures showing a 10% increase in International students in the United States; 8% in Australia, and 4% in Canada – a great contrast with UK’s figures below.
A constraining UK immigration policy for International Students
Despite the benefits that international students bring to the economy, the UK’s immigration policy is constraining international graduates post-study work opportunities and including them within net migration numbers. These increasingly rigorous and ever changing immigration policies are affecting the sentiments of prospective international students; with many of them believing that they are unwelcome here.
Together, this has led to the UK experiencing stagnation in an industry where it traditionally shined. The most recent immigration data shows that study related visas (excluding student visitors) rose by 3% in the year ending September 2014 when compared with previous 12 months; however, there were falls in the numbers of Indian (-6%), Nigerian (-7%) and Pakistani (-10%) nationals. Also, non-EU long-term immigration for study, excluding dependants, fell by 8% in the year ending June 2014 when compared with the previous 12 months.
Recent data and reports by The Entrepreneurs Network and NUS
At a recent roundtable discussion put on by the think tank, The Entrepreneurs Network, the principal guest, Lord Bilimoria and members supporting the growth of International Students in the UK discussed how the UK could catch up with its international competitors. The key recommendations from this meeting include:
- A report by NUS and The Entrepreneurs Network based on a survey on 1599 international students was launched at the event. It urges the UK government re-instate a post-study work visa, de-coupled from the sponsor system, to allow international students to explore post study work opportunities.
- As per the latest net migration numbers, students represent the largest portion of non-EU immigration and a recent ICM poll shows only a meagre 22% of the British public think that international students should count as migrants while the majority 75% thinks that international students should be allowed to stay and work in Britain after graduating from British universities. While many people may have negative feelings towards immigration, most concern appears to be focused on the numbers of unskilled workers. Thus, international students must be removed from the net migration figures to provide a more clear and accurate picture of the immigration numbers. Doing so will also help ensure that the valuable contribution that genuine international students make to Britain is no longer caught up in the immigration debate.
- The government should launch an international student growth strategy to promote British universities overseas, build new international partnerships and ultimately attract more international students.
- Finally, the UK government should also promote and increase visibility for available post study work options such as Tier 5 Government Authorised Exchange scheme amongst more permanent routes like Tier 1 & 2.
Policy makers must strike a right balance in the approach they take to immigration and leave behind the ‘one size fits all’ approach, focused on reducing overall numbers. It is vital that UK does not lose its position as a preferred higher education destination and remains as “One of the best places to live and work”, OECD. The UK is on the back foot and needs to catch up with its competitors, providing a more open and welcoming environment for the worlds best and brightest to study and work in the UK while benefitting from the economic and cultural contributions that international students make.
This guest blog post is provided to you by Zenia Chopra, Head of Sales & Marketing at Access Tier 5, overarching body of the Tier 5 GAE route and partner of Migreat.com.
Data source: Universities UK