HE Viewpoints: Should we be doing more to encourage international students?

In Education by Tom Cannon

In our last blog post we talked to leading HE figures about what makes a university international, here we’re going to examine what the benefits of that are and whether we should be doing more to attract international students.

Views: Professor Mark Spearing, Jo Doyle, Professor Stuart Croft, Lee Wildman, Hayley Simpson, Jenny Grinter and Will Breare-Hall.

BeFunky Collage

BeFunky Collage 2

What are the benefits of being considered an international university?

We’ve explored the criteria which helps a university establish itself as international and we discovered it’s no small feat. From creating links with global partners to implementing a strong international student support system, universities must dedicate serious time, budget and resources if they want to become an international university. So why go to the trouble?

Diverse Campus

Hayley Simpson, Senior International Recruitment Manager at Royal Holloway University of London told us one of the most important benefits is the way in which international students diversify a campus: “Through providing a hub of different values, experiences and beliefs, an international university fosters cultural awareness, an appreciation and understanding of different nationalities and traditions, and an all-round broader experience of life. This all contributes to an education which is all-encompassing in scope, and one which enables all students on campus to improve their social skills by learning alongside peers from around the world.”

Jenny Grinter, Head of Communications at the University of Essex explained how the diverse and international environment at Essex allows their students to discover the world in one place: “This allows them to develop a cultural sensitivity along with a genuine world view that prepares them for the international workplace.”

A member of the team at the University of St Andrews told us: “We have always been larger in outlook than in size, and are proud to be Scotland’s first and most international University. Ours is a cosmopolitan community that is testament to the talent of our staff and students – it is their global outlook that attracts intelligence, collaboration and the exchange of ideas. The potential benefits of bringing so many international scholars together are exciting to consider: new perspectives, future discoveries and diverse relationships. These benefits go far beyond the enrichment of our higher education system – our international graduates progress into an incredibly diverse range of destinations and have great contributions to make as some of our brightest global citizens.”


Ewan Munro

Ewan Munro

Lee Wildman from Queen Mary University of London told us: “As future ambassadors of QMUL, both here in the UK and back in their home countries, they bring added value which cannot be quantified in financial terms.” However, the income earned certainly does help, as he explained: “The tuition fee income to UK Universities from international students also allows institutions to invest significantly in new facilities, such as QMUL’s new Graduate Centre which is due to open in 2016.”


Jo Doyle, Director of Student Recruitment and International Relations at the University of Southampton, told us that for a university to be considered world-class, it has to be highly international: “In terms of attracting the best staff and students from all countries; by building strong relationships with like-minded organisations across the world, we are better able to work in collaboration to positively impact society and solve the major issues facing the world, while also securing the funding to support that work – all in a way that could not be done as an isolated institution.”

Jo added that as they are educating the leaders of the future, they must have an international perspective because their future jobs will demand it: “Their careers will increasingly involve working in multi-national teams for global companies. We are able to create new and exciting opportunities for our students through educational partnerships (ranging from student exchanges to joint degrees) with leading national and international institutions.”

Stuart Croft from the University of Warwick agreed that having an international reputation is important for attracting the best staff and students: “The world’s leading universities have to be international universities because the best students and academic staff want to be global citizens addressing global issues. Warwick’s international reputation has brought  students and staff from over 120 countries to our campus but that reputation has also drawn a great many of our UK students to Warwick because they believe it will give them a truly international teaching and learning experience as part of a global community.”

Will Breare-Hall, the Student Recruitment and Study Abroad Manager at London School of Economics explained how staff and students relish the worldwide nature of study at LSE:  “As an institution dedicated to the study of the social sciences, being considered international in character helps attract the best staff and students from around the world who appreciate that the issues we study are global in nature. Graduates of the School benefit from having studied at an institution with an international reputation for excellence.”


Stuart Croft from the University of Warwick explained how their international identity has helped shape focus and give new opportunities to their research activity: “We have developed ‘Global Research Priorities’ programmes which address some of the most challenging problems facing the world today, providing a platform for multidisciplinary research in 11 key areas of international significance, from food to sustainable cities, energy to innovative manufacturing.”

Hayley Simpson from Royal Holloway University of London told us some of the key research areas that benefit from their international status: “International students can improve and enrich the education experience for all those involved. One key area is through helping to sustain the UK’s range of academic research, particularly in subjects like science, engineering and maths.”

Should the UK be doing more to encourage international students?

From talking to universities, it seems that international students don’t just benefit the individual university, but they enrich the lives of all students, make huge impacts on global research and help bolster our nation’s reputation globally. We wanted to find out if the universities thought more should be done to encourage international students, and if so, what exactly.


To start off, Stuart Croft explained why the UK is such an attractive option for students: “Firstly, English remains the lingua franca of business and science across the world, but more importantly the UK has a significant cluster of leading universities with high quality research and teaching. If UK universities sustain that high quality, and continue to offer a truly global experience to all their students, they will continue to attract both international and UK students.”

Lee Wildman told us: “The Higher Education sector is doing a huge amount to promote the UK as an International study destination, and has been very successful in doing so over the past 15 years.” However, he says increased competition in recent years from USA, Australia, Canada and mainland Europe as well as newer education hubs such as Malaysia and UAE is making things harder. He added: “Coupled with the negative PR that comes with continuous attempts by the Home Office to tighten and restrict access to the UK via the Tier 4 student visa, it is making it difficult for the UK to increase its market share.”


Lee’s suggestion is that the Government change the policy: “If the Government were to revise its current policy on the Tier 4 student visa and support the Higher Education sector in promoting the UK as the world’s premier International study destination, then there is every chance that we will return to the levels of growth seen around the turn of the decade.”

Jo Doyle from the University of Southampton agrees the policy changes have made things tougher:  “In the last few years, there have been a number of changes affecting current and potential international students at UK universities, including the recent announcement to make changes to the immigration rules.” Touching on Lee’s aforementioned point about competition, Jo adds: “This works against growing our numbers and plays well into the hands of our major competitors, such as the USA, Australia, Canada and Germany. The Chancellor has talked about increasing the value of education as an export industry and the Home Office are doing the opposite.”

Jo explained how having international students in the UK and for UK students to study and work elsewhere in the world “is a major component of the UK’s ability to exert ‘Soft Power’ in the world.” As she points out: “a recent study by the British Council showed that 10 per cent of the world’s Heads of State and Heads of Government received at least part of their education in the UK.  This is very important for the UK’s influence in the world and also its ability to engage in international trade, which is vital for the economy.”

Hayley Simpson from Royal Holloway University of London agrees that UK universities are now competing in an increasingly competitive international market: “After the abolition of the Post-Study Work Visa in 2012, many international students inevitably began to consider other destinations.  UK higher education institutions continue to champion the benefits international students bring, but more generally the UK should stand proud and reassert itself as an attractive study destination for international students.”


It is important to encourage international students, because, as she says: “The UK is a world leader in education, with intensive and specialised degrees which are typically shorter and more cost effective than equivalent degree programmes on offer in many other countries.  International students contribute significantly to the UK, both economically and culturally.”

So what does she propose? Hayley told us: “The UK would benefit from sharing more widely the success stories of alumni and their trajectories, both of those graduates who are building careers in the UK as well as those who are now making their mark overseas.  Incentives such as scholarships and bursaries are attractive, as are opportunities to enhance skills to succeed in the international job market.”

Jenny Grinter from the University of Essex told us they support Universities UK’s call for the Government to ensure visa regulations and immigration targets do not deter the best and brightest talent from studying and working in the UK: “We believe that international students and staff make an enormous contribution to the UK, academically, culturally and economically so we must celebrate their incredibly positive role in our national life and make sure they continue to see the UK as a great place to work and study.”

John Barker

John Barker

Lastly, the spokesperson for the University of St Andrews told us: “We are disappointed by the apparent decision of the UK government to rule out a return of the post study work visa. We have used every channel available to us to lobby against the UK government making it more difficult for international graduates to work in the UK after graduation. Significant restrictions to post study work visas give our international HE competitors a significant advantage and threaten our diversity. It is vital that we have a policy environment that allows us to attract the best students from around the globe.”

Case Study: UK Business Schools

The universities above expressed great concern over the changes to immigration rules. But is it actually negatively affecting rates of international students? Yes – according to a report by the Chartered Association of Business Schools published last month.

The report states that last year UK business schools and their surrounding economies lost an estimated £133.5m last year. Why? An 8.6% drop in non-EU enrolments.

This follows an overall downward trend in international students on business and administration courses since 2011/12. This was the academic year following the Government’s announcement to limit the rights to post study work visas. To put this in context, this compares with a 2.4% global growth in internationally mobile students between 2011 – 2013.

The report ends with a fairly strong suggestion that echoes the universities we interviewed:

“Ideally, the Government should review the long term impact the current visa regime is having on international student recruitment to the UK. Without change, it is not only business schools that will suffer, but their parent university and the local communities that they are part of will suffer too. In the longer term, the UK may find that its global influence declines as alumni in senior positions in business, government, cultural, academic and research fields around the globe have instead attended Canadian, Australian, American or other nations for their higher education.”