The economic benefit international students bring to the UK has jumped by a third in three years, boosting the economy by an estimated £42bn in 2021/2, according to new analysis.
The report, by analysts London Economics, said the economic benefit to the country rose from £31.3bn in 2018/9 to £41.9bn three years later as growing numbers of international students choose to study in the UK.
The research, published on Tuesday, comes at a time when the government is considering imposing restrictions on international students coming to the UK as part of its efforts to reduce the net migration figure.
The prime minister, Rishi Sunak, is said to be braced for a record increase in net migration this month. Some reports estimate that the figure could reach close to a million, up from 504,000 last year.
Among the measures ministers are thought be considering are visa restrictions for international students’ dependants and reductions in their post-study work visa rights, both of which would act as a deterrent to potential overseas students.
The report, The Costs and Benefits of International Higher Education Students to the UK, is published by Universities UK International (UUKi), the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) and Kaplan International Pathways, in collaboration with London Economics.
Jamie Arrowsmith, UUKi director, said: “We should be proud that our universities continue to attract students from all over the world. It is vital that the UK remains an open and welcoming destination for international students, and that their contribution is recognised and valued.”
There has been a 68% increase in the number of new international students from non-EU countries since 2018/9 – the number of EU students has however plummeted post-Brexit – and universities have become increasingly dependent on them and their higher fees as the value of domestic tuition fees falls.
The study, which focuses on the cohort of international students who started higher education in the UK in 2021/22, estimates that each of the UK’s 650 parliamentary constituencies is £58m better off as a result of them, equivalent to approximately £560 per citizen.
International students studying in Glasgow, London, Sheffield, Nottingham and Newcastle are among those to deliver the greatest financial boost, according to the report. Even when taking into account dependants and the cost to public services, which it estimates at £4.4bn, the study says international students are a huge net contributor to the UK economy, providing a total net benefit of £37.4bn.
Hepi director Nick Hillman added: “If there were to be further changes to the rules on international students, then it is vital that these are based on evidence rather than whim. So this report is designed to strengthen the existing evidence base.”
Mark Corver, director of DataHE, said: “This type of analysis, with generous economic multipliers on tuition fees and rents paid, will inevitably generate startling large figures for economic benefit.
“Similar calculations for UK students, particularly if it took into account their longer duration post-graduation work, would likely generate even larger figures for ‘impact’ on the economy.”