Impact of international students on UK economy

Danielle Cohen
By Danielle Cohen Immigration Law Solicitor Linkedin
Danielle Cohen has over 20 years of experience as a lawyer and a reputation for offering professional, honest and expert advice.
19 May 2023

The Guardian newspaper in May 2023 published an article confirming that the economic benefit international students bring to the UK has jumped by a third in three years, boosting the economy by an estimated £42 billion in 2021/22. It relied on a report by analysts which said that the economic benefit to the country rose from £31.3 billion in 2018/19 to £41.9 billion three years later, as growing numbers of international students choose to study in the UK. This is a timely publication given that the Government is considering imposing restrictions on international students coming to the UK as part of its efforts to reduce the net migration figures. The Prime Minister, Mr Sunak, is facing a record increase in net migration this month and some suggest that the figure could reach close to a million. Among the measures the Conservative Ministers are thought to be considering are visa restrictions for international students, their dependents (adult dependents or child dependents), and a reduction in the post-study UK work visa rights.

These measures no doubt would act as a deterrent to potential overseas students. The report “Costs and Benefits of International Higher Education Students in the UK” which was published by Universities UK International, the UK Higher Education Policy Institute and the Kaplan International Pathways, states that the UK must remain open and welcome as a destination for international students and that their contribution is recognised and valued. The report suggests that each of the UKs 650 Parliamentary constituencies is £58 million better off as a result of international students. International students studying in Glasgow, London, Sheffield, Nottingham and Newcastle are among those to deliver the greatest financial boost, even when taking into account dependents and the costs to public services. International students not only boost local and national economic well-being, they also allow universities to undertake world class teaching and research and it is shocking to think that billions will be lost as a result of battles within Government over the Immigration Policy.

Professor Hugh Brady, the President of Imperial College London, said in an interview to the Guardian that the overwhelming majority of international students left the UK after graduation with 97.5% compliance rate being the highest of any visa category and almost all those who remained doing so legally. He also said that a large number of degree programmes in science and engineering would not be viable without international students. The Education Secretary Gillian Keegan is at odds with the Home Office plans to restrict overseas students. She wants to expand the amount of money Britain gets from education export revenues and she disagrees with the Home Office plan.

Whilst the government is potentially sabotaging a source of revenue for the UK economy, the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, also told national Conservatives in conference that Britain should train HGV drivers, butchers and fruit pickers. The National Farmer’s Union said the Government’s attempt to recruit UK fruit pickers, a campaign called Pick for Britain, has failed to recruit enough domestic workers and the Officer for Budget Responsibility said that legal migration could help off-set slower growth and productivity, whilst the previous Chancellor, Hunt, acknowledged last November that migration was very important to the economy. However, the picture from Ms Braverman is one in which the UK has less overseas students, migration is to be reduced in the long term to 10s of 1000s and the economic benefits of issuing visas for workers in key sectors and students is to be ignored.

Madelaine Sumption, the Head of Oxford Migration Observatory said “The elephant in the room is the health and care sector which is made up of more than half of long-term skilled worker visas last year. The Government has quite a lot of control over this sector since it funds training places and sets or otherwise directly influences pay. If the Government wants to reduce overseas recruitment it has policy levers it could pull at a cost of course, such as addressing the funding crisis in social care.”

Whilst Suella Braverman and her Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick continue to raise concerns about the level of legal migration it is doubtful whether Suella Braverman’s ideas are good for Britain.