On 26 January, the British Council submitted a response to the Migration Advisory Committee Call For Evidence. The following summarises some of the main messages from that submission.

1) International students are valuable to the whole of the UK, beyond (just) the positive economic impact they have

The net impact of hosting international students in the UK is £20.3bn

On- and off-campus spending by international students and their visitors generated £25.8 billion in gross output for the UK economy  

International students bring huge economic benefits to the UK through the payment of tuition fees and their spending on local economies in towns and cities across the country. Recent research by UUKi has found that over 73% of the British public would like to see the same number or more international students coming to study in the UK after discovering the contribution they make to the economy and jobs.

Over recent years, several studies have investigated the economic impact of international students to the UK. Although the approach and calculated figures differ slightly from study to study, the reports consistently find that international students provide significant net economic benefit to the UK.

International students support courses across the UK and keep training opportunities open for local students and businesses: 

International students also bring positive benefits of diversity across the UK, ensure the financial viability of some crucial courses, foster international friendships and build international collaboration on research.

Many crucial Business and STEM Masters courses are kept alive for UK students by the presence of full time international students. In certain subject areas (especially Business related, and Engineering), the full time enrolments are over 80% from non-UK students (and 1,000s of home students, industries and business are able to access these courses on a part time basis).

(If non-UK students stopped enrolling in these programmes, the likelihood is that for certain disciplines (notably STEM and Business), universities would no longer be able to offer these to UK students on a part time basis.)

A strong international profile within institutions links to greater international collaboration in research.

  • There is a strong relationship between the proportion of students who are international in a HE institution, and the proportion of teaching and research staff that are non-UK nationals. Ie:the more international students, the higher the likelihood there will be significant international teaching and research staff. 
  • Added to this, it is important to observe that international research staff, international mobility and collaboration in research are related to greater impact and quality of research.
  • There has been a shift in the shape/profile of the international student body in the UK in recent years:
  • The international student profile in UK HE is extremely diverse (students from over 200 countries and territories study in the UK) 
  • However, by some measures, that diversity is reducing: UK is now much more reliant on students from China: In 2010/11 less than 1 in 6 international students were from China, but in 2015/16 1 in 5 international students are from China (in fact more than 1 in 4 non-EU students are now from China).
  • The top 10 non-EU source countries send over 2/3 of all non-EU enrolments
  • In 2010/11 over 42% of HEIs hosted the majority (80%) of non-EU students. But by 2015/16 the same students were hosted by just 36% of HEIs. Ie - International students are being hosted by a smaller proportion of institutions, and the effects/impacts/benefits/risks of these students (whether positive or negative) are not shared across the breadth of HEIs, nor across the country.
  • Whilst newly enrolling, full time, non-EU students have increased to the UK 4.5% between 2010/11 and 2015/16; the numbers have actually declined in North East England (-6.8%), East of England (-21.9%), Wales (-29.2%).

2) The UK is losing share of the global mobile student market 

According to OECD Education at a Glance, in 2010 UK hosted 13% of globally mobile students; in 2013 hosted 10%.  

UK’s share is likely to have fallen further still as UK recruitment has grown at a much slower rate than other study destinations.

International recruitment is becoming ever more competitive

More countries are becoming attractive destinations for mobile students: in 2005, 9 countries hosted over 50,000 international students; this figure more than doubled to 20 by 2015.

Students have more choice, and weigh up the whole international study ‘package’ on offer.

From surveying prospective international students (British Council Student Insight study) we know that those considering UK study are also weighing up the ‘package’ on offer from other study destinations.

In February 2018, UCAS data revealed that an increasing number of prospective students are considering UK for UG courses, including 11% growth from non-EU applicants (21% growth from China, 36% growth from India).

This is not surprising as UK HE continues to have an excellent reputation for quality and student experience, but it remains to be seen whether this interest will convert to enrolments.

Students from certain countries are choosing alternative study destinations

From 2011/12 to 15/16 Enrolments to UK increased 0.8%. In the same period global mobility grew 16.6%.

Mobile students from India to UK decreased 43% in this period, but students from India to the rest of the World grew 24%.

The efforts of UK HEIs, and campaigns such as “Study UK: Discover You” go some way to retaining UK share of the global market, and raising the profile and visibility of the benefits of UK study, but students do consider messages from a number of sources when making these important decisions.

3) Compared to the UK, other countries take a contrasting approach to supporting international student mobility 

Many other international study destinations have clear, coherent national strategies to support international education which give clear signals of intent to students and potential international partners.

Many countries have clear, cohesive, nationally driven international education strategies, including ambitious targets to grow student intake (For example, Australia aims to recruit 720K students (to all levels of onshore education) by 2025; Canada targets 450K by 2022; China 500K by 2020; Malaysia 250K by 2025 etc.).

These national strategies can also cover other dimensions of international education, for example the New Colombo Plan in Australia (investing around $50m to support >10K students each year with outward mobility opportunities).

Furthermore, many of these alternative study destinations for prospective internationally mobile students (in particular those countries experiencing high levels of growth such as Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand), include streamlined visa policies and clear, accessible pathways for post study work opportunities within their strategies. 

And many of these countries regard international students differently (in terms of the language used to describe them). Rather than categorising students as ‘migrants’, other countries use the following terminology:

Australia – “Temporary entrant”

Canada – “Temporary resident”

USA – “non-immigrant visitors”