Blog: Student immigration

24 August 2017

Russell Group Head of Policy Sarah Stevens blogs on the value of international students to the UK as the Government publishes new information on immigration exit checks:

Today the Government and the ONS have published a raft of information related to migration, and particularly focusing on international students. For the first time, exit check data has been published which shows that the overwhelming majority of international students (97%) are compliant with the terms of their visas and depart the UK on time[i].



Whilst these are still experimental statistics, the data published today is invaluable in building the evidence base around levels of compliance by international students and others, and can be used in future to underpin and inform immigration policy decisions.

Alongside this, the Government has commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to undertake a wide-ranging assessment of the economic and social impact of international students (both EU and non-EU) to the UK’s universities and the country more broadly. This is the first time such an exercise has been undertaken and will provide an important opportunity to explore the value international students bring to the UK.

We will be responding in full to the MAC review but, as a starter, here are five ways in which international students make a critically important contribution to the UK:

  1.     We estimate international students at Russell Group universities alone generate around £10 billion per annum for the UK – and so it is clear they play a critical role in promoting the future sustainability of UK universities and contribute hugely to the UK economy. Indeed, higher education is one of the UK’s most successful export industries. It is important to note that these benefits are spread across the regions and nations of the UK, boosting local businesses and creating jobs: research by UUK suggests international students support over 200,000 jobs across the country.


  1.     The MAC will be considering the costs of international students in terms of their use of services as well as the benefits they bring, but the evidence suggests they are net contributors in the regions in which they study. A London First report found London's international students bring a net benefit of £2.3 billion per annum, and a University of Sheffield report found international students made a net contribution to Sheffield's GDP of £120 million and contribute £177 million in benefits to the wider region.


  1.     Whilst international students come to the UK to study at all levels, at Russell Group universities they are more highly represented on postgraduate research courses and in disciplines that are of strategic importance to the UK, including many science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects. In this way overseas students help ensure the long-term sustainability of courses in higher-cost disciplines, such as engineering, enabling home students to continue to access these courses. International PhD students also directly contribute to research in our universities playing an important part in helping us maintain the UK’s position as a world-leading research nation.


  1.     As well as supporting the continued financial viability of a number of degree courses, the presence of international students on campus is a real benefit for home students. Overseas students help to increase cultural diversity and enrich the learning environment, meaning home students have the opportunity to develop internationally-relevant skills. Research from the Higher Education Policy Institute shows that home students value studying alongside international students as it helps them to prepare for work in a global environment.


  1.     After completing their studies the majority of international students return home, but the benefits to the UK do not stop there. International alumni provide ‘soft power’ benefits for the UK as they become ambassadors for UK education; a recent study found international students are more likely to recommend the UK than any other leading English-language study destination. Research also shows that they have robust and long-lasting effects on the foreign investments of the UK in their home countries; better enabling British multinationals to access foreign markets. 

We look forward to working with the Government, and with the MAC through their review, to further enhance the evidence base on the value of international students to the UK in order to inform decision-making on policy. This is an important step towards positioning the UK as a dynamic and outward looking nation post-Brexit.




[i]In fact the level of compliance is probably even higher than this as the Home Office data doesn’t capture departure via Ireland, some ferry and train routes etc. and that people may also have left using other documents to those they used to enter (e.g. where they may be dual nationals with two passports and so their entry and exit can’t be matched, or even where they’ve had to get a new passport while here in the UK).




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