International students boost UK economy by £41.9 billion

New data reveals that the intake of international students in the 2021/22 academic year contributed a huge £41.9 billion to the UK economy.

A new report, ‘The costs and benefits of international higher education students to the UK,’ published jointly by Universities UK International (UUKi), the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and Kaplan International Pathways in collaboration with London Economics, reveals the growing importance of international students to local economies throughout the UK.

The report, which was commissioned to explore the impact of international students to the UK economy, reveals the total economic benefits have risen from £31.3 billion to £41.9 billion between 2018/19 and 2021/22, an increase of 34%. The data also confirm that – even when accounting for the impact on public services (estimated at £4.4 billion) – the economic benefits of hosting international students significantly outweigh the costs, with a total net benefit of £37.4bn to the UK economy.

The net economic impact of international students has seen a dramatic rise over the past few years – up 58% since 2015/16 (£23.6 billion to £37.4 billion). One reason for this is the 68% rise in the number of new international students (350,145 in 2021/22) from non-EU countries since 2018/19. Data from the report indicate that every 11 non-EU students generate £1 million worth of net economic impact for the UK economy – or £96,000 per non-EU domiciled student.

Findings from the study will be announced on Tuesday morning at a free event in London, hosted by HEPI – details on how to book an in-person or online place are here. At the event, it will be shown that international students living in constituencies in Glasgow, Newcastle, Sheffield, Nottingham, and London deliver the greatest financial contributions, showcasing the nationwide spread of international students to the country’s economy. On average, international students make a £58 million net economic contribution per constituency, equivalent to approximately £560 per citizen.

In total, 381,000 first-year international students enrolled into UK universities in 2021/22, highlighting the global appeal of the country’s higher education institutions and cementing the UK as one of the leading destinations for international students. Demonstrating the spread of international students across England, the report shows that 98,825 new students studied in London, 31,360 studied in Yorkshire and the Humber, 29,750 in the West Midlands, 27,680 in the Northwest, 24,835 in the East of England, 24,235 in the East Midlands and 18,715 in the Northeast. There were 44,085 international first-year students studying in Scotland, 14,905 in Wales, and 12,615 in Northern Ireland.

Jamie Arrowsmith, Director of Universities UK International said: “This report further highlights the positive contribution that international students make to the UK. They offer both a cultural and social benefit to our country and make a significant contribution to our economy. We should be proud that our universities continue to attract students from all over the world. It is vital that the UK remains an open and welcoming destination for international students, and that their contribution is recognised and valued. Higher education is one of the UK’s most important and successful exports – but it is truly unique, in that alongside generating a significant economic contribution to the UK our universities have a hugely positive global impact, creating opportunity for millions of learners and helping address some of the most pressing global challenges.”

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI said: “International students underpin the success of universities across the UK. They diversify our campuses, cross-subsidise our research and spend lots of money with UK businesses, before either going home with warm feelings about the UK or staying here and contributing to the UK economy. The number of international students has been rising fast, reflecting the attractiveness of the UK to those who want to better themselves through education, and in spite of mixed messages from policymakers. If there were to be further changes to the rules on international students, then it is vital that these are based on evidence rather than whim. So this report is designed to strengthen the existing evidence base. We hope it will be read by every candidate for every major political party in every constituency in the run-up to the next election.”

Linda Cowan, Managing Director of Kaplan International Pathways, said: “This third update of research on the economic benefits of international students makes the most compelling case yet for the critical role this sector plays in our economy. With international students having a range of study opportunities open to them around the world and with increasing competition from countries that unambiguously communicate their welcoming offer to attract international students, it is critical we don’t take our success for granted. International students are clear-eyed about what they are looking for in a study destination and increasingly we hear from students that employability skills and career advice are at the top of their list. We need better data on the employment outcomes of international students, consistent policy, a strong offer and a unified message of welcome.”

Dr Gavan Conlon, Partner at London Economics, said: “Reflecting the attractiveness of the UK as a place for undertaking higher education, the number of international students coming to the UK is at an all-time high. International students put nearly 10 times more into the economy than they take out – boosting both local and national economic well-being. However, international students also allow universities to undertake world-class teaching and research that would not otherwise be possible. As one of the UK’s most significant export industries, the success of universities in attracting international students should be applauded.”