The economic impact of international students in the UK

by Stacey Dingwall

A key concern following Brexit has been the status of international students (and academics) in the UK. Going into the general election, Theresa May has declined calls from universities – and some of her most senior colleagues – to remove students from her government’s target to cut migration by “tens of thousands”.

International students in the UK

In 2014-15, 437,000 students came from overseas to study in the UK, making up 19% of all UK university registrations that year. In February, the Office for National Statistics released net migration statistics which showed that long-term immigration to the UK fell by a “statistically significant” 23% to 134,000 in the year ending September 2016 – the lowest estimate recorded in almost 15 years. The number of international students coming to study in the UK accounted for much of this decrease, at 41,000. The majority of this figure was made up by students from non-EU countries (31,000).

In January, HESA released figures on students enrolled in higher education in 2015-16 which indicated that the number of students coming to the UK from EU member states had increased by 2%. These figures were collected before Brexit, however, so it will be next year’s edition before any impact, if at all, can be identified. Figures from UCAS published at the end of March, however, indicate a 6% decrease in the number of university applications from EU students on the previous year.

The ONS migration figures also showed that students from Asian countries made up 68% of the estimated 87,000 non-EU citizens who came to study in the UK during that year. While the UK remains the second most popular destination for international students in the world, after the USA, this is a fall of 23,000 on the previous year.

An economic impact worth billions

So why are some of Mrs May’s most senior colleagues rebelling against her decision to maintain international students within her migration reduction quota? One major reason is clearly the economic benefits generated for the country by the students. In March this year, research conducted by Oxford Economics for Universities UK suggested that in 2014-15, on- and off-campus spending by international students, and their visitors, generated a knock-on impact worth £25.8 billion in gross output to the UK economy. The 2014-15 international student cohort accounted for £10.8 billion of UK export earnings that year.

Tuition fees account for £4.8 billion of the total figure. The research also found that spending by international students supported over 200,000 jobs in UK university towns and cities and that the economic activity and employment sustained by international students’ off campus spending generated £1 billion in tax revenues.

Conservative rebellion and public opinion

Conservative MP Anna Soubry has pointed out that the economic contribution of international students continues even after they have completed their studies, in the form of “goodwill towards our country”, which “ often results in business deals as well as improved international relations and understanding”. It would appear that the public shares her sentiments: a poll conducted by Comres following the publication of Universities UK’s research found that 74% of those asked would like to see the number of international students in the UK either maintained or increased, after being told of the economic benefits they generate.

Despite this, the Prime Minister’s only concession so far has been to allow the newly created Office for Students to publish separate figures on overseas students, although they will still be recorded as part of the overall migration figures.  It has been suggested that a potential Conservative backbench rebellion over the government’s decision to remove the House of Lords’ amendment to the Higher Education and Research Bill on the issue was only defused by the decision to call a snap election – although MPs from both the Conservative and opposition parties have vowed to continue to fight the government’s stance. The Independent has launched a campaign – Drop the Target – supported by Soubry, which is demanding answers from the government on why they are continuing with the policy, which they argue is economically and socially damaging to the country.


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Socitm deliberates: what’s the future for local government digital services?

By Steven McGinty

Today, the Society of Information Technology Management (SOCITM) are having their 28th annual Spring Conference. The event provides business and technology leaders from across the public sector with the opportunity to discuss the future of government digital services.

A key issue up for debate is the development of ‘local public services as a platform’. This is based on the idea of ‘government as a platform’, a UK government policy which aims to provide:

“a common core infrastructure of shared digital systems, technology and processes on which it’s easy to build brilliant, user-centric government services”

The most high profile example of government as a platform is the use of a single website to provide digital services, known as GOV.UK. This was introduced by Government Digital Service (GDS), the organisation responsible for the digital transformation of central government services. It’s believed that the use of GOV.UK has led to more than £60m in savings, simply from replacing the DirectGov and Business Link websites.

How could local public services as a platform work?

To date, there have been two main approaches put forward. The first, proposed by Richard Copley, head of information and communications technologies (ICT) at Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, involves the creation of a Local Government Digital Service (LDGS). This would oversee the development of a single website for local government services, removing the need for individual council websites. It’s argued that this would only cost each council £3,000 per year, allowing local councils to make substantial savings.

However, Socitm have rejected the idea of a single website for local services. They argue that a single website:

‘..ignores the independence of local authorities as organisations that have different democratic mandates and priorities… local government is exactly that. Local requirements, whether of geography, size, demographics or politics, must continue to drive council websites.’

Instead, Socitm suggests the use of a common platform for sharing local government tools and applications. This would mean that local government could promote and share examples of best practice. However, they do acknowledge that incentives would need to be introduced to encourage this.

Is there political support for extending government as a platform into local government?

There was certainly intent by the Conservative government to have this happen. Ed Vaisey, UK minister for culture and the digital economy, is an advocate of Richard Copley’s view of a ‘local government digital service’ (LGDS). He explains that having local government on one website is an ‘ambition’ and emphasises that it has the potential to save billions of pounds by providing a gateway, similar to GOV.UK, for local government services.

Similarly, George Osborne made the increased use of digital services a major theme of the last Budget. For example, the Chancellor has expanded the remit of the Government Digital Service (GDS), to include collaborating with local councils to develop ‘customer-focussed, digitally-enabled, efficient local services’.

Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister Chi Onwurah has also been involved in the debate. Last year, she was keen to see the GDS support the work of local councils, which indicates that there may be some agreement with the Conservative Party. Recently, she expanded on her view, explaining that if the GDS were to work with local councils, they should focus on major areas such as social care and benefits.

At the moment, the future of local government services is uncertain. However, it’s important that we continue to debate the issue in order to find solutions that will provide real value for taxpayers, as well as provide better public services.


Further reading