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The Costs and Benefits of International Higher Education Students to the UK Economy

9 September 2021


Since the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and Kaplan International Pathways published The costs and benefits of international students by parliamentary constituency in January 2018, a huge amount has happened to affect the global flows of students. Globally, the Covid-19 pandemic affected the ability of students from around the world to access international higher education, through major economic damage and significant travel disruption. The UK’s exit from the European Union (Brexit) has resulted in more negative perceptions of the UK among EU students and created additional barriers, through the need to obtain a visa or no longer being eligible for the same fee status and associated access to student finance as UK students. The policy environment in the UK has also changed. In March 2019, the Government published its International Education Strategy, committing to increasing the number of international higher education students choosing the UK as their study destination to 600,000 and the value of education exports to £35 billion per year by 2030. After a decade of rhetoric and policy changes that suggested the Government’s aim was the contrary, this commitment was welcomed throughout the higher education sector. In September 2019, this commitment was reinforced by action when a new UK post-study work route, the Graduate route, was announced. This decision followed almost a decade of policy advocacy by both HEPI and UUK on this topic. Indeed, the first iteration of the research in this report was commissioned to support the case for a more favourable policy environment for international students. So why re-do this analysis now? While the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the UK’s exit from the European Union are still unfolding, initial indications suggest that total international students in the UK stayed relatively stable in the 2020/21 academic year, due in part to the improved policy environment. However, data from this year’s admissions cycle suggest that Brexit has severely affected EU student recruitment with acceptances in early August of 2021 to undergraduate degree courses 56% lower than at the equivalent point in 2020. This suggests the UK cannot take its attractiveness as a study destination for international students for granted. As the analysis in this report shows, the 2018/19 cohort of international students delivered a net economic benefit of £25.9 billion to the UK with every region and parliamentary constituency benefitting. This is a 19% increase in real terms from the net benefit found for the 2015/16 cohort of international students reported in the previous study. Put another way, for the 2018/19 cohort, every 14 EU students and every 10 non-EU students generate £1 million worth of net economic impact for the UK economy over the duration of their studies.



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