Why the UK Should Commit to More International Students

A recent publication from the Institute for Public Policy Research, “Britain Wants You” makes a strong case for increasing the number of international students coming to the UK, but recognises the conflict in government policy between different departments – the Home Office committed to a reduction in net migration, and BIS supporting international students.

student migration chart for twitter option 2

Its key recommendations include:

  • the abandonment of the net migration target, which is a bad measure of policy
  • investment in gathering improved longitudinal data about students’ pathways through the immigration system
  • more selective and targeted screening of prospective international students, and greater support for education institutions that are licensed to sponsor them
  • introducing a modest levy on international students for NHS coverage, equivalent to the typical cost of private medical insurance for a student (around £100–£200 per year), but offsetting this charge with corresponding advantages, including increased working rights during and after study
  • an intelligence-­led independent review of the burgeoning student visitor visa route to monitor any unusual patterns


As well as case studies of individual colleges, the report includes a section on Indian students, and points out that from 2012 to 2013, the number of Indian students in the UK fell by 24%, despite an insufficient number of institutions of suitable quality in India and rising prosperity meaning that an increasing number of Indian parents are becoming able to support children studying overseas. A survey of potential students suggested that although they have historically seen the UK as a favourable destination, other international destinations were equally or more attractive. The post study work options in the UK are less favouable than some other destinations and 91% of students thought that this would put some off from applying to the UK. In addition, students found the visa application process difficult.

The report concludes with:

BIS has made predictions about the extent to which the sector could grow in the coming years, but the government’s own net migration target is preventing it from allowing the sector to grow. This is causing damage to the UK’s education sector and the national economy. The government and education institutions need to come together to form a new consensus to plan for growth in the international education sector.

Given that current policies in this area appear to have reached an impasse, and public anxiety about immigration is showing no sign of abating, it is essential that the government introduces rational, workable solutions. These measures should not penalise genuine institutions and genuine students, as this has a negative impact on the UK both in terms of earnings and reputation. Above all, the government now needs to commit unequivocally to increasing the number of international students studying in British education institutions.

As universities move into a new regime where student number controls are removed, and the market for home/EU undergraduates is freed up further, it becomes essential to make it desirable for  international students  to come to the UK. Universities need to be able to attract this source of income, but also need to provide the benefits to all students of a more internationalised experience that a diverse student body can bring.