Edition 198 - October 2017

UK: MAC study tries to assess the impact of international students in the UK

On 3 October, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) produced a briefing note on request of the Home Secretary. It analyses the available data on international students studying and living in the UK and it aims at assessing the impact of international students in economic and social terms.  

Using data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), the study finds that 20% of the 2.3 million students in the UK are ‘international’. Non-EU and non-EEA students form the bulk of international students (14% or 310,000), with students from the EU/EEA contributing only 6% (or 130,000) to total enrolment. The shares differ significant by level of study (undergraduates and postgraduates), as well as between subject areas. International students are more likely to study Business or Engineering and Technology. UK students are more likely to enrol in Medicine, Biology and Education. 

Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) collected in the framework of the International Passenger Survey (IPS) show a considerable drop in immigration for the purposes of study between 2010 and 2017. While the number of border crossing students-to-be was 235,000 in 2010, it fell until 2017 to 139,000. This decline is most likely due to operational and policy changes, as the study argues. It is likely that the decrease is to a large extent due to falling numbers in the further education sector, and that the numbers flowing into the higher education sector are stable or still rising. 

As to impact, the study states that international students make a net contribution to the UK economy, in the form of tuition fees, but also through spending on food, accommodation, leisure, travel and the like. A recent study by Universities UK suggests that in 2014-15 international students contributed £ 25.8 billion to the UK economy. International students (may) also bring cultural and social benefits to the UK. However, the data available does not allow to reach very far-reaching conclusions. The MAC is hoping to make a more substantial contribution in the future, based on the results of a ‘call for evidence’ it has launched. 

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