Are Foreign Students Worth £12 Billion a Year?


August 30, 2012

The NUS are now claiming a figure of £12.5 billion as the benefit of foreign students. The universities lobby has previously bandied about the figure of £8 billion. The implication is that this valuable sector of our economy is somehow being put at risk as a result of tightening the immigration regulations for foreign students.

That figure was based on 2008/9 but a study by Migration Watch UK released today shows that the true level of benefit to the UK’s foreign exchange earnings in that year was more like £4.3 billion. This is just over 1% of the total – and only a small part of this would be at risk from tightening up the immigration system. Adjusting for inflation and the increase in the number of students gives a figure of £5.76 billion for 2010/11.

The study found that the BIS report which produced the original figure of £8 billion is very misleading in this context because:

- It is an assessment of the value of the entire sector – not just of foreign students.
- It included EU students who, of course, are not subject to immigration policy
- and it ignored the fact that many international students work part time to cover their living costs.

The Migration Watch UK report also looked at claims that the sector will be “worth” £17 billion in 2025. This, however, depends on a still further massive increase in student numbers that will, because of the proportion that stay on, seriously undermine the government’s immigration policy.

Commenting, Sir Andrew Green, Chairman of Migration Watch UK, said “Some inflated figures have been circulated about the economic value of foreign students. The number of student immigrants has increased by 59% since the new Points Based System was introduced and there is crystal clear evidence of substantial abuse. The government are absolutely right to crack down on this. Looking ahead, the financial interests of the universities cannot be allowed to destroy the government’s immigration objectives which are so widely supported by the public”.

Notes to Editors: Data from the International Passenger Survey shows that in 2008 126,000 students were recorded as coming to the UK for a year or more for the purposes of study. In the year ending September 2011 this has risen to 201,000.

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