The impact of international students in the UK

Our University, and the #WeAreInternational campaign, have responded to today's (Thursday 24 August 2017) announcement that the government is launching a review of the impact international students make on our UK economy and society.

The government will commission an in-depth analysis of the societal and economic benefits of international students, to be carried out by the government's Migration Advisory Committee, including the impact of tuition fees and other spending by foreign students on the national, regional and local economies.

The Home Office has also today revealed that new border checks introduced last year found 97 percent of international students left the UK after finishing their studies.

The #WeAreInternational campaign, founded by our University and Students’ Union and supported by hundreds of universities, businesses and organisations globally, celebrates the rich contribution international students bring to the UK and is urging the government to support them in word and deed.

Sheffield is home to more than 10,000 international students from over 140 countries, studying at the University of Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam University and Sheffield College.

Professor Sir Keith Burnett, our President and Vice-Chancellor and co-founder of #WeAreInternational, said: “These figures reiterate what our campaign has long emphasised – international students are not immigrants to be discouraged but, in the vast majority of cases, temporary visitors to our country making an investment in their future and ours.

“The myth that many international students overstay their visas after they graduate, and the negative narrative around immigration, risk us going backwards – and it is our duty to challenge it. Those few graduates who do stay on make a huge contribution in areas where their talents are crucial to us.”

He added: “Universities are a place of hope and excellence precisely because we are international. We need to see international students for what they are – a precious part of our universities and our society. People who contribute knowledge and skills, who train in our hospitals and give generously to charities in cities across the UK. People who are vital to our businesses and economy as well as being our students, our colleagues and our friends.

“If the UK is to have a positive future it must be open to the world, and one of the most positive ways we can achieve this is through education. If we welcome international students as the wonderful asset they are to our universities and communities we will all reap the benefits. Government policy should properly reflect this and any targets to reduce numbers of immigrants which include international students should be dropped.”

Kieran Maxwell, President of the University of our Students’ Union, said: “At Sheffield Students’ Union, we value and welcome our international members. We draw our strength from the diverse student community we have here. International students make an incredible contribution to our campus, helping to make our university a truly global community.

“These figures show the government has, once again, made blatantly incorrect and ham-fisted assumptions about international students. We completely reject the overwhelmingly negative narrative surrounding immigrants and international students, that has been further propagated by this government. If the government continues to create barriers to the participation of international students in our universities, then the results for the integrity of this country’s higher education sector will be catastrophic.

“In Sheffield, we are proud of international members, we are proud of our diversity and we are proud to say that #WeAreInternational.”

Paul Blomfield, MP for Sheffield Central and Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on International Students, has been a long time supporter of the campaign and spoke at a Parliamentary reception hosted by #WeAreInternational in July.

Responding to today’s announcements, he said: “The figures published by the Office of National Statistics confirm what many of us have been arguing - that international students make no real impact on net migration. It's therefore damaging to include them in migration targets, with policies that discourage them from coming to the UK.

“International students enrich the learning environment for UK students, add to the research capacity of our universities which supports business growth, and contribute massively to the economy, creating tens of thousands of jobs in towns and cities across the country. In Sheffield alone that's worth around £200 million and perhaps 10,000 jobs in every sector.

“The review commissioned by the Government must be the first step in changing course and re-establishing the UK as the first choice for international students.”

The #WeAreInternational campaign is supported by more than 160 universities and organisations, including Universities UK, the National Union of Students, the CBI, the government-wide GREAT campaign and the British Council.

It has also gathered local support from Sheffield businesses, which last year shared their stories of how the city’s vibrant community of international students has had a positive impact on Sheffield in a film for the campaign.

Richard Wright, of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, has led the voice of local firms in making clear just what international students mean to Sheffield economically.

Speaking about the new exit check figures, he said: "These figures expose the myth that many international students stay on after their studies and increase the immigration numbers. The fact is that very few do and in those cases they bring specific skills to our economy. They are invaluable ambassadors for our country.

"What international students do is bring real wealth into this country and positively affect the trade balance. They are a critical contributor to the income of both our universities and this city.

"It's now time to get past all this misinformation that had gone on for far too long and both welcome them with open arms and make it easy for them to come here. If we don't somebody else will."

Find out more about #WeAreInternational