The majority of British people do not want fewer international students to study in the UK despite calls for an immigration crackdown as part of the process of leaving the European Union.
Some 73% of the British public would like to see the same number or more international students coming to study post Brexit as they believe they make a valuable contribution to the economy and generate jobs.
Indeed, most people do not view international students as immigrants, with only 26% doing do, according to a new poll by ComRes for Universities UK, the organisation which represents universities across the country.
Overall, the survey found that 64% of British adults think international students have a positive impact on the local economies of the towns and cities in which they study and 61% think that international students also have a valuable social and cultural impact on university towns and cities.
The poll shows that, while there remain concerns about immigration levels in many parts of the country, the public recognise the substantial gains to towns, cities and regions from having international students in their area. The results also show that universities play a critical role in ensuring that their international connections help benefit the region.
Some 75% also believe that international students should be allowed to work in the UK for a fixed period after they have graduated, rather than returning immediately to their home country after completing their studies.
Recently published figures on the economic impact of international students in the UK produced for Universities UK by Oxford Economics showed that they now generate more than £26 billion for the economy and their spending supported 206,600 jobs in university towns and cities across the UK.
‘It is clear that the British public does not see international students as long term migrants, but as valuable, temporary visitors. They come to the UK, study for a period, then the vast majority return home,’ said Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of the University of Kent.
‘In the context of concerns about the impact of globalisation, this poll shows that universities are able to ensure that their international links provide a direct benefit to the region. It is clear that the positive economic impact of international students extends to all corners of the UK, and not only to London or one or two large cities,’ she explained.
‘The poll shows also the public recognises the valuable social and cultural impact international students have in regions across the country. But, while the UK Government continues to count international students as long-term migrants in its target to reduce migration, there is a continued pressure to reduce their numbers, adding to the perception that they are not welcome here,’ she pointed out.
She added that the most recent figures on international students in the UK showed a worrying decline in the number of new international enrolments over recent years. At the same time, competitor countries such as the United States and Australia have seen increases.
‘Both countries open their arms to international students and classify them as being non-permanent or temporary residents in their immigration systems. The UK could be doing much better than this. The UK has the potential to be one of the world’s fastest growing destinations for international students, building on its current status as the second most popular destination for international students after the US,’ said Goodfellow.
‘If the UK wants to remain a top destination for international students, we need a new immigration policy that encourages them to choose the UK. As the UK prepares to exit the EU, it is more important than ever that we project a welcoming message to talented people from across the world,’ she added.