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International students are starting to stay away, but is that really what the UK needs?

    Last year, international students were shocked with the news that they would be imposed with strict laws on their – already expensive – UK student visas, including being banned from working while studying. This news spread like wildfire among the community of international students on social media, where many have expressed concerns that they are being treated as 'cash cows' and now feel unwelcome in the UK.  

    Being an international student myself, I believe that these new rules are very restrictive and now make our lives here harder than they already are. The high cost of studying in the UK already steers away many potential international students: for example, the British Pound is – as of 10th June 2016 – approximately 5.83 to the Malaysian Ringgit. Imposing such laws will make more students think twice before potentially choosing to study in the UK, and consider studying in universities with cheaper university fees: an example of another university that uses English as its main medium of instruction is the National University of Singapore (NUS). Below is a graph comparing the tuition fees of its undergraduate engineering courses for new international students for the Academic Year 2016/17. We can see that NUS’s tuition fee (SGD17,100 per year, approximately £8921) NUS is less than half of what the University of Bristol (£18,800). In London, the disparity is even large with University College London (UCL) and Imperial College London (ICL) charging £22,380 and £26,750 respectively. Thus, with other affordable universities around the world, students would naturally look to go elsewhere.

    Evidence exists to show that Theresa May’s plan to decrease immigration numbers by focusing on international students is working.  In the most recent Migration Statistics Quarterly Report by ONS, it is reported that visa applications from non-EU nationals to study in universities fell by 1%, whereas this was a 16% drop for applications to the Further Education sector and other educational institutions. 34% of non-EU study visas granted went to Chinese students. With China’s recent economic slowdown and the Malaysian government slashing overseas scholarships, it is very likely that there will be an increased reduction in non-EU study visa applications in the future. 

    The paradox lies here: it is undeniable that international students are crucial to funding for universities, and yet the government is keen on reducing their numbers. Sir Keith Burnett, the vice-chancellor for the University of Sheffield, estimated that 40% of his university's income from teaching comes from international students. In Sheffield, the presence of Chinese students has helped in attracting investment to its economy – a figure that Sir Keith suggested is at £200 million. To quote him, “If you look at where we got the money, it’s all from Chinese parents.”

    Realising how much international students can contribute, universities are marketing themselves to students all over the world, by offering new courses and attractive facilities. To do this, universities are expanding while luring the best academics at the same time. A recent example includes UCL will be borrowing £280 million to help fund a new campus in East London while refurbishing its current facilities – this has caused it to be in a 'barely financially sustainable position' as its budget is under strain. This will likely cause in yet another rise in tuition fees for international students.

    With UK’s uncompetitive situation on tuition fees, it would be best if the UK sought to make things more welcoming for international students. After all, the UK has many top universities in the world and capitalising, improving and expanding on that would bring huge revenue to the economy.  

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