By Araks-Naomi Zainali
The world-class universities dotted across our small island are often overlooked as an “export” market. However, they draw from countries both near and far some of the sharpest, brightest minds, injecting an estimated £8bn into our flagging economy every year. Should this gem of a market be allowed to flourish, £8bn will likely soar to £16.8bn by 2025, according to the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.
But a major obstacle to growth is on the horizon. The UK Government remains steadfast in its decision to include international students in net migration figures, despite concerted and sustained lobbying from higher-education institutions. The benefits of such students to the UK are endangered by the Coalition’s policy of number counting.
In a recent study conducted by Oxford Economics, overseas students were found to contribute millions to Sheffield’s economy. Tuition fees brought the University of Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam and other higher-education institutions £104.5m, allowing them to invest in additional and enhanced facilities. A further £99m was spent by the students on living costs, such as food, transport and accommodation.
The fact that over 38,000 of non-EU students are from the USA, China and India also has significant, if less obvious, economic implications. Last month, in a three day visit to India, David Cameron urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to open up his country to British businesses. If the UK intends to consolidate ties with its major export partners, it should first display a willingness to embrace their young and talented.
International students are attracted to the pioneering research UK universities are globally renowned for. Yet the very quality of this research depends on their continued presence. They currently amount to 40% of UK postgraduate students, and in science, maths and engineering courses they tend to form the majority. Many specialist degrees would not survive if they relied solely upon the UK market. Meanwhile, the rich cultural diversity international students lend to their institutions of choice is invaluable.
Figures published by the Office of National Statistics in November already indicated a 26% decline in the number of study visas issued for September 2012. Anti-immigration rhetoric and tighter visa controls have began to bear effect. If the Coalition soon changes tack and elects to exclude overseas students from net migration figures, they will safeguard the economy against further collapse and preserve our universities’ statuses as prestigious global brands.
Do you think that the combination of promising British and international students is an asset the UK cannot afford to lose?
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