International student numbers have been plummeting for years. Now what?

The Guardian is reporting that if Britain is to remain a popular study destination for students from around the globe, it is more important now than ever that the government urgently reviews its treatment of international students.

We know that international students (from outside the EU) are looking to study away from their home countries in greater and greater numbers. That figure is increasing by 6% a year, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. We also know that the UK is home to the some of the best universities in the world, so it would follow that many of these students would choose to study here. But by December 2015, the number of non-EU student arrivals hit a nine-year low of 167,000; by March 2016, non-EU applications to study in the UK had dropped to 222,609, a 6% decline.

New prime minister Theresa May was notoriously hostile to international students in her previous role as home secretary. She tightened visa requirements last year and made it more difficult for international students to work in the UK after graduating. These students are also included in net migration figures – which the government is desperately trying to reduce.

But international students clearly shouldn’t be part of the conversation about migration. They benefit our universities and the economy (to the tune of £7bn a year), and they don’t generally hang about if they can’t find gainful employment afterwards. Why would anybody spend thousands and overcome a plethora of hurdles to study here, only to claim benefits afterwards?

However, the damage to our economy may have already been done. Parthenon/EY research estimates the total cost of declining overseas student numbers over the past five years to be £8bn. That figure does not reflect the impact of the potential skills shortage on the economy, nor does it take account of the soft power benefit the UK is sacrificing – a report from the Higher Education Policy Institute found that 55 current leaders of foreign countries were educated at a higher level in the UK.

The referendum result could prompt a review of policies relating to international students – and the government should be pushed to change course in terms of both rhetoric and policy.

More at: International student numbers have been plummeting for years. Now what?

Should more be done to encourage international students to continue studying in the UK? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter. ~ Nellie

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