Are international students taking over UK universities? No – in fact, they support them | Jonathan Portes

SSince 2010, the number of international students in the UK has increased increase up to 70%, while access to the most competitive universities has become increasingly difficult. Meanwhile, tuition fees paid by domestic students have fallen by more than a quarter in real terms, but for international students they have risen ever higher: they are generally more than double the UK level.

It’s not difficult to connect the dots, and that’s what the Sunday Times did last weekend, claiming that international students “purchased their entry through secret routes.” This reminds me of the civil service joke that the best way to hide the existence of a potentially embarrassing government policy is to publish it on the department’s website, because ensuring the existence of “secret roads» in universities, or in basic courses as they are better called, does not really require fearless undercover journalism. These courses TO DO have considerably lower entry requirements – they are intended for both international and national students from disadvantaged backgrounds, to prepare them for the actual courses. The clue, of course, lies in the word “prepare.”

That said, there is a serious point here. Given financial incentives, universities are indeed proactively recruiting international students, with core courses being only one aspect of this. But it is difficult to say that British students are thus excluded. Since 2010, the number of undergraduate students in the UK and abroad has increased. roughly similar amounts. The situation is also no different for the “top universities” that the Sunday Times focuses on. The largest increase in international students has occurred at the postgraduate level.

So international students don’t do itOverall, this reduces opportunities for UK students – if anything, the opposite is true. With tuition fees at current levels, universities, on average, lose money on domestic students while managing an even larger program research deficit. This money has to come from somewhere, and right now it’s coming from international students. This is all just accounting.

Therefore, while it is difficult to say exactly what the sector would look like without so many international students, the figures suggest it would be considerably smaller, with some universities becoming completely unviable. At a time when “tradable services» – which include universities both directly, as service exporters, and indirectly, as an essential part of the wider finance, business services, consulting and ICT ecosystem – are l one of the few positive points in the British economic landscape, it is difficult to dispute it. that would make a lot of sense.

Another criticism leveled at international students is not so much their impact on universities or domestic students, but rather on the broader job market. Since 2021, newly graduated international students can apply for a graduate visa, which allows them and their dependents to stay here for two years and take any job. Some critics, describing them as “Deliveroo visas“, say many of them will likely work in low-paying jobs.

In fact, the data available so far suggests that, overall, recent migrants from non-EU countries are go up, not down, the salary distribution range. However, it would not be surprising if many recent graduates – like many recent graduates from the UK – are in low-paid jobs. But it’s unclear why this is a major problem. During these two years, they will contribute to the economy by working and paying taxes. data available suggests they are doing just that. They appear to restore some of the flexibility to the UK market which was lost following the end of free movement of workers. And, after two years, they must either obtain a skilled work visa or, as most likely will, leave the country. Although there may be unintended consequences – abuse of the system and potential exploitation in certain sectors – the basic design appears sound.

The real criticism of the current situation is not that international students are crowding out domestic students, but rather that the entire system, increasingly dependent on the very high tuition fees of international students, is unsustainable and unstable, and needs both structural reforms and an injection of new liquidity. The reduction in the value of domestic tuition fees has led to an increase in the number of international students. Like the situation in the welfare sector, the high levels of immigration flows needed to support the system provide a useful talking point for politicians and commentators who believe there are votes and clicks in xenophobia, as well as for people who have a lot more money. reasonable concerns about the well-being of those who consume these services and those who work in them. But they are a symptom, rather than a cause, of systemic problems resulting from underfunding government policies, combined with malicious neglect.

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