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International students are worth £28.8 billion to the UK

  • 9 September 2021
  • By Nick Hillman
  • In-depth analysis reveals the huge contribution of international students to the UK’s economic prosperity.
  • Every part of the UK is financially better off – on average by £390 per person – because of international students.
  • International students in Sheffield, Nottingham, London, Cardiff, Glasgow and Newcastle are among those to deliver the greatest financial contributions.

New analysis shows that just one year’s intake of incoming international students is worth £28.8 billion to the UK economy.

Today’s report, The costs and benefits of international higher education students to the UK economy, published by Universities UK International (UUKi) and the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), with research from London Economics, finds the benefits of hosting international students significantly outweighs the costs of international students, including their use of public services, which are put at £2.9 billion. 

The net economic benefit of £25.9 billion is spread across every part of the UK and the report provides the results for every one of the 650 Westminster constituencies. For example, the contribution to the UK economy of international students in the 2018/19 intake resident in Sheffield Central is £290 million. Other notable results include Nottingham South (£261 million); Holborn and St Pancras (£243 million); Newcastle upon Tyne East (£240 million); East Ham (£217 million); Cambridge (£214 million); Cardiff Central (£181 million); and Glasgow Central (£171 million).

The analysis lands as international student numbers at UK universities have been hit by the uncertainty caused by Covid-19 and changes to the tuition fee structure for EU students after Brexit – EU student acceptances to undergraduate degree courses were 56% lower in early August 2021 than at the same time last year.

Universities UK International and HEPI are calling for more to be done to promote the UK as a welcoming, diverse and accessible study destination. This could include ensuring the success of the new Graduate route, reducing the financial barriers for international students, and supporting the improvement of English language ability.

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said: 

“This report confirms higher education is one of the UK’s greatest export earners. The benefits reach every part of the UK, from Land’s End to John O’Groats. But international students do not just bring financial benefits. They also bring educational benefits by making our campuses more diverse and exciting places to be. To make the most of these benefits, we need to provide a warm welcome, ensure our educational offer remains competitive and help international students secure fulfilling careers after study. The policy environment is, in many respects, more conducive than it was, with the Government gradually becoming more positive about international students. But the current halving in the number of EU students confirms future success cannot be taken for granted.”

Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International, said:

“While there has been a growing realisation of the tremendous social and cultural benefits of international students, this study provides a stark reminder of their financial importance to communities across the UK, economic recovery and the levelling up agenda. We now need fresh ideas and stronger momentum to achieve the UK Government’s international education strategy target of attracting at least 600,000 international students every year by 2030 and the good this will bring to everyone.”

Dr Gavan Conlon, Partner at London Economics, said:

“The net economic impact associated with the 2018/19 cohort of international students stood at £25.9 billion, with substantial benefits accrued throughout every region of the UK. After Brexit and the pandemic, the long-term challenges facing the UK economy have never been greater. Built on a world-class higher education sector, international students represent a huge growth opportunity to the UK economy. Every effort should be made by the UK Government to further develop this crucial export market.”

Linda Cowan, Managing Director of Kaplan International Pathways, said:

“Kaplan welcomes this important update to the original work we published with HEPI and London Economics on the net economic impact of international higher education students in the UK. This new report shows important increases in student numbers and the net benefit they bring. At a time of worrying socio-political instability around the world, welcoming the next generation of international students to the UK to gain the important skills they will need in the coming years has never been more important.”

As well as the Summary Report referred to above, a full-length report is also available here.

Notes to editors

  1. The analysis shows that there were 496,000 international students studying for qualifications at higher education institutions across the United Kingdom in 2018/19 – equivalent to 20% of all higher education students. It builds on previous research produced by HEPI, Kaplan International Pathways and London Economics back in January 2018.
  2. Net economic impact per student was estimated to be £71,000 per ‘typical’ EU-domiciled student in the 2018/19 cohort, and £102,000 per non-EU domiciled student. In other words, every 14 EU students and every 10 non-EU students generate £1m worth of net economic impact for the UK economy over the duration of their studies.
  3. The UK’s international education strategy includes a target of increasing the number of international students in the UK to at least 600,000 by 2030 and the value of education exports to £35 billion per year by 2030. 
  4. Universities UK International (UUKi) represents more than 140 UK higher education institutions (HEIs) globally and helps them flourish internationally. To do this we actively promote UK HEIs abroad, provide trusted information for and about them, and create new opportunities through our unique ability to act at sector level. We draw on UK university expertise to influence policy in the UK and overseas, delivering information, advice and guidance to facilitate mutually beneficial collaboration between UK HEIs and a broad range of international partners. For more information visit:
  5. HEPI was established in 2002 to influence the higher education debate with evidence. We are UK-wide, independent and non-partisan. We are funded by organisations and universities that wish to see a vibrant higher education debate, as well as through our own events. HEPI is a company limited by guarantee and a registered charity.
  6. London Economics is an economic consultancy specialising in Education and Labour Market economics. Over the last decade, London Economics has delivered a wide range of high profile research studies involving assessments of higher education fees and funding arrangements; the impact of Brexit on the demand for UK higher education; the economic returns to higher education qualifications; the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on university finances; as well as a number of economic and social impact analyses of higher education institutions. London Economics provides independent and rigorous analysis to central government, mission groups, think tanks, regulators, unions and representative organisations, as well as individual HEIs. For more information, please visit

1 comment

  1. albert wright says:

    This is wonderful, positive news for the UK economy, the individual institutions and their local communities.

    However, there may be some minor negative effects relating to climate change from the international air travel involved and the possible limitation on entry of UK students to some of our top institutions in favour of higher paying foreign students.

    Nevertheless, the positive balance should be a cause of celebration and thanks to all those involved in making this happen.

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