Those of us lucky enough to work with international students have long known the important contributions they make to society, adding fresh perspectives, fostering links between cultures and supporting our economy.
Although foreign students are currently included in net migration figures, a poll conducted by ComRes for Universities UK, has revealed that only a quarter (24%) of Britons think of overseas students as immigrants.
This divide in public and government perception suggests that attempts to cut down the number of international students will do little to alleviate concerns around immigration.
In fact, three quarters (75%) of respondents who expressed a view, said they would like to see the number of international students in the UK increase or remain the same. Crucially, this figure rose to a remarkable 87% once respondents were provided with information about economic benefits of international students.
Overseas students are vital contributors to many facets of the UK economy. The English language teaching industry alone supported around 26,500 jobs in the United Kingdom in 2014; adding over £1 billion of value to the economy. See the facts and figures.
These economic benefits are particularly important to the health and well-being of local economies, where international students are frequently seen as major contributors. This is acknowledged by the wider population – of those respondents who expressed a view, 81% agreed that international students have a positive impact on the area where they study.
The benefits that international students provide extend well beyond their fiscal contribution. They are key to the quality and vibrancy of Britain's world-renowned education sector, and the diversity of our society more broadly. They also play a vital role in the projection of Britain's soft power, helping to build international relationships and strengthening the UK's position as a key global hub for politics and business.
This is why a staggering of 91% of respondents said they believe that international students should be allowed to stay and work for some time after completing their studies in the UK.
The results of the survey, while encouraging, should not be surprising. The positive impact of international students on their peers and surroundings is as real as it is wide-reaching, which is why we should continue to build an open and welcome environment to students from around the world.
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