international students in the UK
Universities in the UK are expecting international student enrolment to drop 80-100 percent post COVID-19. Source: Abbas Momani/AFP

With the COVID-19 crisis crushing its economy, UK universities are realising the true value of international students.

As it stands, Universities UK (UUK) predicts that the UK’s higher education sector will lose £790 million in accommodation, catering and conference income. This loss could balloon to £6.9 billion if its usual pool of international applicants cannot enrol.

According to the Head of Higher Education at Lloyds Banking Group Andrew Connors, many institutions are now modelling international student reductions of 80-100 percent.

Writing in the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) blog, he said: “Every university we have spoken to expects to be impacted and for some, the potential loss to income is projected to be greater than £100m. And that is before you factor in that losing new students has a multi-year impact.”

Yes, the estimated financial losses are monumental. But foreign investment is not all international students in the UK are good for.

Here’s why having international students in the UK is essential to the health of its higher education sector.

Every graduate benefits from a global campus culture. Source: Robyn Beck/AFP

International students create a global culture on campus

In September last year, Ucas data showed 40,720 new international student enrolments from outside the EU, including a 30 percent rise in Chinese students.

Besides China, these international students in the UK come from India, the US, Hong Kong, and Malaysia.

international students in the uk

China sends the most number of citizens to study in UK universities. Source: Mark Ralston/AFP

Together, they create the global culture that top universities boast about to further spur foreign enrolment.

Everyone benefits from a diverse student body. As a student, you develop cross-cultural skills and a sense of global awareness that makes you employable anywhere in the world upon graduating.

International student fees make world-class research possible

Whether or not we realise it, international students in the UK help subsidise expensive scientific research with their fees, which start around £9,000 and goes up to £58,600 for medical degrees.

The UUK has warned that universities with falling international enrolments will no longer be able to bank on this model. As HEPI director Nick Hillman told Times Higher Education, “The biggest problem from fewer international students is the shortage of cross-subsidies for other activities (as well as less diversity on campus).”

“If international students drop a lot in number, then it’s not just courses becoming unviable that matters but also lots of research projects.”

international students in the UK

Study abroad experiences are shared far and wide, which is beneficial to universities. Source: Shutterstock

Successful graduates become the UK’s higher education ambassadors

International students in the UK come to study at world-class universities and pursue global careers. Thus, studying overseas can be an incredibly enriching, life-changing experience.

international students in the uk

Singapore premier Lee Hsien Loong graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge University. Source: Roslan Rahman/AFP

So when you return home as a graduate, you effectively become an ambassador for the UK’s higher education system. You may inspire cousins and friends to follow in your footsteps.

Beyond that, international students in the UK make up a substantial part of STEM courses. For example, consider how Indian students arrive in droves each year to study engineering and computer science.

International students are therefore helping “ensure the long-term sustainability of courses in higher-cost disciplines,” according to Russell Group.

International students in the UK fulfil research and employment demands

As a STEM-focused international student, you may go on to participate in groundbreaking research projects yourself.

international students in the uk

A great number of researchers and medical officers in the UK were once international students in its universities. Source: Jack Hill/Pool/AFP

That’s why the Russell Group stated, “Overseas researchers and PhD students play a vital role in continually refreshing the UK’s research base, and in developing our position as a world-leading research nation.”

Further, a 2019 study by HEPI and Kaplan International Pathways showed that a single cohort of international students contributes £3.2 billion to the UK economy over 10 years through tax payments alone.

Even if they are not directly involved in research, international graduates who stay back to work in the UK fill the gaps of high-demand sectors such as engineering, technology and medicine.

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