A not-insignificant majority of non-EU international students in Britain say they feel welcome and would recommend Britain as a place for higher studies, despite increasingly complex visa rules, according to a new study.
The study, carried out by PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the lobbying group London First, found there was more than 310,000 students from outside the European Union studying at Higher Education institutes across the UK – more than 67,000 of them in London.
76% of the students surveyed said they felt welcome in Britain and more than 90% of those said they would recommend studying in Britain to a friend or relative.
However, more than half of international students said that the complexity of visa regulations and fees had negatively impacted on their experience of studying in the UK.
Nearly half of those surveyed also said that the increasingly stringent rules on documentation required for visa applications and the restrictions placed on working had had an adverse impact on their time in the UK.
Other areas of concern for international students according to the survey include the controversial closure of the Post Study Work visa; the often inadequate grace period between graduation and expiry of the student visa and the processing time for visas and extensions.
The generally positive feel about studying in the UK comes in spite of the previous coalition government imposing severe restrictions on student visas for non-EU students.
Some student groups have blamed the government of targeting international students due to its inability to restrict large-scale migration from Eastern Europe.
The restrictions on student visas have led to a dramatic decline in the number of students from the South Asia studying in the UK with some estimates putting the figure at nearly 50% over the past five years.
Prominent business figures such as Sir James Dyson have bemoaned the government’s new regulations, saying it is detrimental to Britain’s long-term growth prospects.
According to the PwC survey, the economic benefits brought by international students vastly outweigh the costs.
In London alone, international students contribute a net benefit of £2.3 billion per annum to the UK economy more than four times the estimated cost of providing them with public services, including the National Health Service.
International students support nearly 70,000 jobs in London because of the money they spend here whilst in the longer term, a majority of students including alumni say they are more likely to do business with the UK as a result of studying here.
Jo Valentine, Chief Executive of London First, said that international students should not be seen as a burden for the UK.
“These students are made to feel unwelcome because of anti-immigration rhetoric – and the fact that they are currently included in the government’s net migration target.
“But students’ expenditure here is a modern-day export: they pay substantial fees and contribute significantly in consumer spending.
“As a matter of priority, our new government should follow the lead of Australia and Canada and reclassify international students as temporary visitors, not migrants. It makes no sense to imply through classification and rhetoric that they are unwelcome, which is harming our universities’ abilities to sell education to talented students around the world.”
Julia Onslow-Cole, head of global immigration at PwC, said: “While politicians recognise the importance of international students, there has been considerable debate over the economic value.
“This is the first study to quantify the benefits of student migration. We need more hard data like this to inform immigration policies and targets. The £2.3bn benefit of international students illustrates there is a huge amount at stake.”