International students are essential to UK innovation

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Prodigy Finance - May, 20 2024

3 min read

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Our mission is to make quality education accessible for all - globally.

University Business magazine recently asked us to give our opinion on the recent logistical, legal, and financial struggles that international students face in order to stay in the UK.*

International students are finding it increasingly difficult to study in the United Kingdom: visas are scarcer, and student funding even more so. Already this has resulted in lower foreign student enrolment in the 2012-2013 academic year. According to figures released by Universities UK earlier this year, such immigration quotas have understandably made foreigners also feel “less welcome.”

This protectionist trend is counterproductive. Barriers to immigration only fence off UK economic growth and innovation.

4 reasons foreign students are key for UK innovation

British universities and the private sector should take note, of 4 key reasons:

1. Foreign students are an important source of revenue for both universities and the country.

Through tuition and consumption of other goods (housing, food, entertainment), international students contribute £7 billion annually to the UK economy. Looking at the global networks that these students create, the effect is even greater: according to the British Council, UK education and training exports are valued at £28 billion, eclipsing the export value of key industries like automotive, healthcare, and financial services.

2. Student body diversity results in greater “global dexterity” of students and global connectivity of institutions.

Students become better educated in a wide variety of cultures and approaches to business and learning—a knowledge set increasingly important in a globalizing world. This will allow researchers to collaborate with others more easily, and for international business to flourish. Moreover, as students return home, research and global business benefit from the international networks that remain.

3. Heterogeneity leads to greater innovation, in both research and business.

Evidence abounds that the cross-pollination of ideas is beneficial. For this reason, international collaborations underlie 40% of the UK’s cited scientific research. A 2006 World Bank study showed that a 10% increase in foreign graduate students at a US university increased university patents by 6% and non-university (commercial) patents by 6.8%.

Particularly in the STEM field, “disruptive” ideas have increasingly come from non-natives: 44% of Silicon Valley startups were founded by immigrants.

4. Highly skilled labour begets more highly skilled labour.

As talented foreign students fill British university lecture halls, the number of highly skilled employees in the labour force increases. But despite “fear economics” claims, this trend is actually good for the UK for twofold reasons.

  • First, competition incentivizes native Brits to study at more advanced levels in order to be employable, leading to a more educated, stronger economy.

  • Second, the economy expands to accommodate immigrants. There is a labour fallacy that there is just one labour market; in reality, economists have discovered a rich web of multiple, interlocking labour markets that are related to capital markets.

More immigrants means more consumption, i.e. injections to the capital markets that allow labour markets to grow and absorb new employees. In the long term, a new, better economic equilibrium is reached—one that all Britons should champion, not hinder. There is even some evidence that, in the short term, unemployment (as a %) is unaffected by large influxes of immigrants.

And yet, the government celebrates its efforts to reduce immigration to under 100,000 new foreigners per year by 2015. This is wrong.

Instead, we need a Britain that invites foreigners to pursue higher education in the UK. This means not only more welcoming policies but also active financial assistance for students. This need not be in the form of scholarships, or even state-underwritten loans. Rather, universities can take advantage of private-public partnerships that encourage the innovation and growth that immigrant students provide.

Ready to be part of the solution?

Prodigy Finance makes international study in the UK possible for students that have a difficult time finding funding elsewhere.

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