The flow of international students coming to the UK from all over the world to study has been a consistent feature of the UK higher education system for the last few decades. This trend has increased the reliance of UK universities and the UK economy as a whole on international students. There are two main reasons for this: the higher tuition fees that non-European Union (EU) students pay to attend courses at UK higher education institutions (HEIs), and the multiplier effect created by the spending power of these students within their local communities. The combination of these two variables has contributed to international students and their families becoming major players in the UK property market.
“In 2011-2012 alone, the higher education sector provided full time jobs to 757,268 people, 2.7 percent of the total number of UK employees”
The UK’s higher education system is worth more than the combination of the air transport, legal services and pharmaceuticals sectors combined. Higher education contributes £73 billion to the country’s GDP, with air transport, legal and pharmaceuticals contributing £70.1 billion. According to Universities UK, the representative body for universities, in 2011-12 alone, the higher education sector provided –full-time jobs to 757,268 people, 2.7 percent of the total number of UK employees. Moreover, for every 100 people working at a university, there are 117 jobs created in other parts of the economy. As a whole, the sector amounts to 2.8 percent of the country’s GDP.
According to data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) there are currently 425,265 international students attending the UK’s 167 higher education institutions (HEI). Outside of the EU student population, the largest international student populations come from China (78,715 students), followed by India (29,900), Nigeria (17,620) and the United States (16,335). There are roughly 23,000 students from the Middle East attending universities across the UK. Saudi Arabia on the top of the list, with 10,000 students, followed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with 2,476 students.
The diverse student population that comes to the UK every year means that getting an education in the UK will always be a multicultural and international experience. These same students also make a large financial contribution to the HEIs, they attend and fuel the local economy with their lifestyle requirements. An overview of their economic impact is reflected by the latest statistics presented by Universities UK. These suggest that spending by international students supports around 137,000 full-time-equivalent jobs in universities and local businesses across the country. According to data from Universities UK, international students in Sheffield, for instance, contributed £120 million to the local economy in 2012-13.
There is another economic element to consider in regard to the influx of international students: the recent recovery of London’s real estate prices is prompting more and more international students to invest in the city’s lucrative market rather than simply rent. This is a trend looked upon favourably by the UK government, and in particular by the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who sees international students as a way of creating long lasting connections between the UK and other countries. Johnson maintains that those who come as students often return as investors and ultimately play a positive role in the country’s economy. As he says: “Educational exports have the potential to create a number of indirect benefits including strengthening the quality and reputation of the UK education sector, promoting the English language as well as the British culture, bringing diversity to the education sector and helping to provide an international dimension that benefits students and research.”
“The Uk’s higher education system is worth more than the combination of air transport, legal service & pharma-ceutical sectors combined”