UA briefing on international students

International student numbers have been growing in the UK as part of a government strategy to grow education export income for the UK, provide financial sustainability for universities without increasing the contribution of taxpayers or UK students, and ensure our country remains globally connected.

Universities have supported this strategy both because we believe in the power of global connectivity, and because international student fees fill a hole in university finances caused by a decade long decline in teaching and research funding. International student fees now subsidise research and teaching for UK students to the tune of £3bn a year.

The professional and technical universities in the University Alliance are clear that growth in our international student numbers has not led to UK students being turned away: we are in fact able to grow the number of places available to UK students as a result of international students.

Growth in international students has been driven by government strategy, which recognises the significant benefits they bring

In 2019, the UK government released its International Education Strategy, which set out to grow the number of international students studying in the UK every year to 600,000.

This is because the government recognises the many benefits UK students bring to the UK, which include:


Government needs to be honest about the impact cuts to international student numbers could have

80% of the UK’s Higher Education Institutions would be at risk of falling into financial deficit by 2025/26 if the number of international students decreases by 20%. This is already becoming a reality as a result of recent policy changes introduced restricting PGT students from bringing dependents with them:

Universities are already forecasting a 20-40% drop in international student demand for 2024 as a result.

In January 2024, indicative data shows a 71% drop in visa issuance to international students.

Government must urgently assess the risks associated with a majority of UK universities, especially professional and technical universities, being in deficit. These could include:


International students are not taking university places from UK students

Alliance universities are currently growing the number of places available for UK students. If a UK student meets our entry requirements and wants to study at a high-quality professional and technical university, they are very welcome, there are places.

The growth in international students has been concentrated at postgraduate level, for which there is lower demand from UK students.


International students contribute to our economy and public services

All international students pay an NHS surcharge, which funds their access to healthcare in the UK.

International students must be able to support themselves while in the UK. Students will not be granted a visa unless they can show that they have at least £1,023 in their bank account per month of study.

International students contribute over £40 billion to the UK economy every year: approximately £560 per citizen per year


Universities are committed to rooting out any fraud in the student visa system

Universities can lose their license to sponsor international student visas if they are not compliant with visa rules, so they are committed to ensuring any students they recruit are here legitimately.

Universities are teaching institutions with highly dedicated teaching staff: they want their students to be in their classrooms, labs and studios, learning and gaining good outcomes.

Universities do work with overseas agents to help international students navigate the UK university sector and admissions process. If an agent promotes false or fraudulent messaging, they are defrauding the university as well as the student.

The UK university sector has been working hard to root out bad agent practice, for example through the sector-led agent quality framework, but we would welcome support from government in this area.

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