International students – no longer welcome?

One of the key features of higher education across the developed world in recent years has been the growth of student migration. Students have increasingly been encouraged to consider universities in other countries when making their study choices, and this has led to a very significant internationalisation of higher education. Some countries – and the United States of America in particular – have a long record of attracting overseas students, many of whom then stayed and contributed to innovation and economic growth. And while it may not have been something that was always stressed as part of the reason for international student recruitment, host countries tended to benefit significantly from the tuition fees paid by these students.

But in Britain at any rate, is this about to come to an end? Over the past while UK visa regulations have placed increasing burdens both on overseas students coming into the country and on the universities in which they wish to study. It is a highly bureaucratic and intrusive framework, and it has been seen in many countries from which students have been recruited as indicating that foreign students are no longer welcome in Britain. And now, this has been reinforced by some political messages. British Immigration Minister Damian Green, describing as ‘beneficial’ a drop of 11 per cent in student visas, recently said the following in a speech:

‘Of course international students bring economic and wider benefits. But … there is scope for further examination of whether and to what extent foreign student tuition fees boost the UK economy and crucially how UK residents ultimately benefit from that. We need a better understanding of the economic and social costs and benefits of student migration: from the point of view of the wider UK economy, the education sector itself and the students themselves.    There needs to be a focus on quality rather than quantity. The principle of selectivity should apply to student migration just as it does to work migration.’

The Minister is therefore suggesting that attracting overseas students, even very good ones, is not necessarily positive, and he voices doubts about the economic impact or benefit of their fees. He also shows no awareness of or sympathy for the wider principle of an international dimension to higher education.

In many countries, and in Britain in particular, debates about immigration quickly turn into unpleasant discussions in which gut suspicions, sometimes mixed at least a little with xenophobia, distort rational decision-making. The current trend of UK policies on immigration is bizarre, and is undermining the global reputation of British higher education. There are traces of this also in other countries. None of this makes sense, and it undermines the ethos of higher education. Politicians need to think again, urgently.

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7 Comments on “International students – no longer welcome?”

  1. Vince Says:

    Well I defy anyone to justify the flight of the entire cohort of medical grads to foreign climbs here in Ireland. And while not exactly apples and apples nevertheless its not apples and ball-bearings either.

    On your main point. There was valid reasons if one looked at the time devoted to study, solely. Which is the only way, measurable, to get any real data. Still it’s a bit like measuring the fill of petrol. Yeah you’re getting data but just how useful can any conclusion drawn from it. Still the English Language Schools could be said to be taking the Michael. Mind you, were the employment laws enforced…

  2. Anna Notaro Says:

    It is not surprising at all that ‘he shows no awareness of or sympathy for the wider principle of an international dimension to higher education’, how could he possibly appreciate that if economics is the only analytical lens used? Besides, this limited approach is questionable in terms of methodology as well since the minister’s views seem to be based only on one (albeit ‘authoritative’ and ‘fascinating’) study by the Migration Advisory Committee about how costs and benefits of immigration are calculated. Of course this study, it is further argued, will be considered by other ‘economists across Government’! All that is prefaced by the intention to ‘to raise the whole tone of the immigration debate’. There must be some irony somewhere in there that I am missing.Thank God the Lib Dems with their well thought through education and immigration policies are part of the government coalition so that the damages of an otherwise majority conservative government are mitigated. Yep we can keep on dreaming..

    • Anna Notaro Says:

      As an appendix, I have come across on Twitter this piece aptly entitled ‘Birth of Immigration Fiction: Watch a UK Minister Create an Economic Myth about Migration from Developing Countries’ which argues, convincingly, that the Minister ‘badly misread’ the report produced by Migration Advisory Committee. In particular the report ‘simply does not say, does not find, and does not suggest that non-European immigrants “displaced” UK workers’, in fact it ‘flatly concludes that the available data do not allow for an accurate accounting of the economic costs and benefits of immigration for UK natives’. The full text is worth reading at length and it’s available at

  3. jfryar Says:

    Scenario 1: We reduce the numbers of international students. The universities lose out on their fees, the students also lose out. No one benefits.

    Scenario 2: We allow international students in great numbers, but send them home after their degrees. The universities benefit from the fees, the students benefit from their education, and their home nations benefit from the graduates returning. The economy of England does not.

    Scenario 3: We allow international students in great numbers and grant them work visas for a few years after their degree. The universities benefit, the students benefit, the home nations benefit, and English employers now benefit.

    Perhaps I’m missing something?

  4. Eddie Says:

    I fully support Damien Green.

  5. juttajerlich Says:

    Similar bureaucratic hurdles for students visas were introduced in Austria – it seems to be the same trend here. Maybe there is a need to have a joint effort from European Universities on the European level to make economic impact and benefit clear for politicians.

    Jutta, from the Vienna University of Technology

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