The UK government has announced plans to halve international student numbers, sending shockwaves through the higher education community as many institutions are reliant on the fees international students bring in. But, could the cuts actually affect more than just the institutions themselves? What kind of a contribution do international students make to the UK’s economy? And how will this affect the individual towns in which those universities are based?
Initially, the change will only affect non-EU students; however, once the UK leaves the EU this restriction would apply to all non-British students in the country. We previously discussed which universities would be hardest hit should numbers drop (based on which institutions have the highest percentages of international students), but how might these changes affect the country as a whole economically?
Estimates suggest that the UK’s higher education export sector could be worth around £14 billion annually to the UK, which includes both fees and money spent by the students. In London, non-EU international students alone are estimated to contribute £2.8bn to the local economy, according to a study by London First and PwC.
It’s not only the students themselves who contribute either, according to the same report and during the 2013/14 period, £121m was spent by families of students visiting them in the capital.
In Sheffield, a report found that international students in the city were worth a whopping £120 million to the local economy. The data also shows that many international students remain in the area post-graduation, contributing their newfound skills to an area of the country severely lacking in resources.
Of course, the issue won’t just affect cities in England; a study from Universities Wales found that international students generated £530m of export earnings in 2013/14. This figure was equivalent to 4% of all Welsh exports in 2014.
A separate report commissioned by the Committee for Employment and Learning found that in, Northern Ireland, international students contributed £86.1 million to off-campus expenditure in 2013/14.
In Scotland, according to PwC, international students boost the economy by around £312m each year.
The issue of immigration is a hot topic right now, which makes it even more necessary to understand exactly what the effect of increased restrictions could be. It might be that those towns most in need of the benefits international students bring could be faced with the toughest challenges if those numbers drop.