International Students: Trends in the UK

After the U.S., Britain welcomes the largest number of international students each year. In this post, I lay out the financial contribution that these students make to the British economy, explore the effects of the recently announced changes to student visas, and end with predictions for the future.

Money, Money, Money
According to the Guardian, international students brought in £10 billion this year ($15 billion), a similar contribution to that made in the U.S. The far more important sum, however, is the estimated £3.5 billion ($5.3 billion) that goes directly to colleges and universities. While some U.S. universities charge higher fees to international students, many British institutions charge significantly more for internationals students to attend than UK nationals. The Patterns of Higher Education in Britain report found that “there has been a marked increase in the number of institutions receiving more than 15% of their total income from international student fees.” Fees from international students now account for more income than research grants for most institutions. At the top of the list, the London School of Economics receives a full 33.5% of its budget from international student fees.

The Visa Situation
The British Home Office announced new rules for student visas on October 30. These include a requirement that institutions must receive a license to invite international students. Students must have already been accepted by a licensed institution to be granted a visa, and they will have to prove that they have the financial means to support themselves while in the country. Finally, institutions will be required to report students who enroll but then do not show up for class.

While these rules have already been protested by some academics, they are remarkably similar to both the Australian and U.S. systems. It should be pointed out that the increased restrictions on student visas was one contributing factor to the downturn in U.S. international students. The British Council, however, has insisted that the new rules will not affect student enrollment.

What will this mean?
Pat Kilingsley of the British Council argues for a more proactive approach from British colleges and universities. This will be critical in order for institutions to maintain their current level of funding.

I believe that the new visa restrictions will have some dampening effect on attendence, but there will not be the accompanying perception of unfriendliness towards internationals that hurt the U.S. so badly following 9/11. Increased competition from the U.S. and Australia will mean that the U.K. will need to fight hard to keep its students, but increasing total number of available students from Asia and the Middle East will mean that many schools will see positive results.
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