International students bring much to society, university and the economy

By Richard McCallum

It has recently been reported that the Government is considering introducing restrictions to foreign students entering the UK, as a means of controlling net migration.

The UK India Business Council believes that this would be a retrograde step.

Our universities sector is one of the nation’s greatest exporters. International students are critical to the academic and research strength the sector and essential to universities’ financial health.

Levelling-up is a priority and for it to succeed, universities across the country must thrive in their communities. International students contribute an estimated net positive contribution of £26 billion per year to the UK economy, creating jobs and supporting growth in cities and towns across the country.

Reducing their number would harm the economy in the short-, medium- and long-term.

New restrictions would also resurrect negative perceptions of the UK in India – a key strategic, business, security, and political ally – just as Indian students have become the largest cohort of international students in the UK and at a time when India is: a member of the UN Security Council; President of the G20; an increasingly influential actor in geopolitical matters – Russia/Ukraine, China, and broader security in Asia-Pacific; and, of course, the world’s 5th biggest economy with which the UK is currently negotiating an FTA.

Indians studying in the UK underpin the broader relationship, encapsulated in the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership agreed by the Prime Ministers of the two countries in May 2021, and covering climate action, defence and security, healthcare, trade and investment and, importantly, the people-to-people connections that bring so much energy, dynamism, and trust to the bilateral partnership.

The UK needs a consistent student visa policy that both tackles abuse whilst also enabling managed growth in international student recruitment. For its part, India is currently implementing its own National Education Policy in which UK universities wish to participate.

Education is a fundamental building block for the future relationship, and at a time when the UK seeks to establish new relationships with fast growth economies such as India, and increasing geopolitical uncertainty, extending a warm, well-managed welcome to Indian students makes sound economic and strategic sense.

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