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International students boost UK economy by £41.9 billion 

  • 16 May 2023
  • By HEPI / Kaplan International Pathways / Universities UK International / London Economics
  • New figures show the economic benefit of international students rose from £31.3 billion to £41.9 billion between 2018/19 and 2021/22  
  • International students in Glasgow, London, Sheffield, Nottingham and Newcastle are among those to deliver the greatest financial contributions  
  • On average, each of the 650 parliamentary constituencies in the UK is £58 million better off because of international students – equivalent to approximately £560 per citizen  
  • Even when accounting for dependants and other costs, international students are a huge net contributor to the UK economy 
  • Every 11 non-EU students generates £1 million worth of net economic impact for the UK economy 

New data reveals that the intake of international students in the 2021/22 academic year contributed a huge £41.9 billion to the UK economy.

A new report, The costs and benefits of international higher education students to the UK, published jointly by Universities UK International (UUKi), the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and Kaplan International Pathways in collaboration with London Economics, reveals the growing importance of international students to local economies throughout the UK. (A summary report is also available alongside the full report.)

The report, which was commissioned to explore the impact of international students to the UK economy, reveals the total economic benefits have risen from £31.3 billion to £41.9 billion between 2018/19 and 2021/22, an increase of 34%. The data also confirm that – even when accounting for the impact on public services (estimated at £4.4 billion) – the economic benefits of hosting international students significantly outweigh the costs, with a total net benefit of £37.4bn to the UK economy.   

The net economic impact of international students has seen a dramatic rise over the past few years – up 58% since 2015/16 (£23.6 billion to £37.4 billion). One reason for this is the 68% rise in the number of new international students (350,145 in 2021/22) from non-EU countries since 2018/19. Data from the report indicate that every 11 non-EU students generate £1 million worth of net economic impact for the UK economy – or £96,000 per non-EU domiciled student. 

Findings from the study will be announced on Tuesday morning at a free event in London, hosted by HEPI – details on how to book an in-person or online place are here. At the event, it will be shown that international students living in constituencies in Glasgow, Newcastle, Sheffield, Nottingham and London deliver the greatest financial contributions, showcasing the nationwide spread of international students to the country’s economy. On average, international students make a £58 million net economic contribution per constituency, equivalent to approximately £560 per citizen. 

In total, 381,000 first year international students enrolled into UK universities in 2021/22, highlighting the global appeal of the country’s higher education institutions and cementing the UK as one of the leading destinations for international students. Demonstrating the spread of international students across England, the report shows that 98,825 new students studied in London, 31,360 studied in Yorkshire and the Humber, 29,750 in the West Midlands, 27,680 in the Northwest, 24,835 in the East of England, 24,235 in the East Midlands and 18,715 in the Northeast. There were 44,085 international first-year students studying in Scotland, 14,905 in Wales, and 12,615 in Northern Ireland. 

Jamie Arrowsmith, Director of Universities UK International said:

This report further highlights the positive contribution that international students make to the UK. They offer both a cultural and social benefit to our country, and make a significant contribution to our economy. We should be proud that our universities continue to attract students from all over the world. It is vitalthat the UK remains an open and welcoming destination for international students, and that their contribution is recognised and valued. Higher education is one of the UK’s most important and successful exports – but it is truly unique, in that alongside generating a significant economic contribution to the UK our universities have a hugely positive global impact, creating opportunity for millions of learners and helping address some of the most pressing global challenges.

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI said:

International students underpin the success of universities across the UK. They diversify our campuses, cross-subsidise our research and spend lots of money with UK businesses, before either going home with warm feelings about the UK or staying here and contributing to the UK economy. The number of international students has been rising fast, reflecting the attractiveness of the UK to those who want to better themselves through education, and in spite of mixed messages from policymakers. If there were to be further changes to the rules on international students, then it is vital that these are based on evidence rather than whim. So this report is designed to strengthen the existing evidence base. We hope it will be read by every candidate for every major political party in every constituency in the run up to the next election.

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

This third update of research on the economic benefits of international students makes the most compelling case yet for the critical role this sector plays in our economy. With international students having a range of study opportunities open to them around the world and with increasing competition from countries that unambiguously communicate their welcoming offer to attract international students, it is critical we don’t take our success for granted. International students are clear-eyed about what they are looking for in a study destination and increasingly we hear from students that employability skills and careers advice are at the top of their list. We need better data on the employment outcomes of international students, consistent policy, a strong offer and a unified message of welcome.

Dr Gavan Conlon, Partner at London Economics, said:

Reflecting the attractiveness of the UK as a place for undertaking higher education, the number of international students coming to the UK is at an all-time high. International students put nearly 10 times more into the economy than they take out – boosting both local and national economic wellbeing. However, international students also allow universities to undertake world class teaching and research that would not otherwise be possible. As one of the UK’s most significant export industries, the success of universities in attracting international students should be applauded.

Notes to Editors

  1. On the morning of Tuesday, 16 May 2023, HEPI, Universities UK and Kaplan will be hosting a hybrid launch event on the new research, with Professor Wendy Alexander (Vice-Principal (International at the University of Dundee and the Scottish Government’s International Trade & Investment Envoy for Higher Education), Professor Wendy Thomson CBE (Vice-Chancellor of the University of London), Professor Alan Manning (former Chair of the Migration Advisory Committee) and Sára Kozáková (Co-Chair of UKCISA’s Student Advisory Group, a Student Commissioner of the International Higher Education Commission and a Master’s student at Newcastle University). For more details, including how to book a free place, see
  2. The net economic impact per student was estimated to be £125,000 per ‘typical’ EU domiciled student in the 2021/22 cohort, and £96,000 per non-EU domiciled student. In other words, every 9 EU students and every 11 non-EU students generate £1 million worth of net economic impact for the UK economy over the duration of their studies. 
  3. Aggregating the 2021/22 cohort of first-year students, the total public cost associated with these international students and their dependants is estimated to be £4.4 billion: approximately £0.4 billion is associated with supporting EU domiciled students and their dependants, with the remaining £4.0 billion associated with providing public services to non-EU students and their dependants. 
  4. On average, international students in the 2021/22 cohort make a £58 million net economic contribution to the UK economy per constituency. This is equivalent to £560 per member of the resident population.   
  5. The analysis indicates that the contribution to the UK economy of the international students in the 2021/22 cohort resident in Glasgow Central stands at approximately £292 million, which is equivalent to £2,720 per member of the resident population. The other constituencies where international students make the greatest contribution to the UK economy are Holborn and St Pancras (£291 million (£1,720)), Sheffield Central (£273 million (£1,930)), Nottingham South (£271 million (£2,190)), Edinburgh East (£268 million (£2,420)) and Newcastle Upon Tyne East (£264 million (£2,560)). 
  6. Aggregating the entire 2021/22 cohort of first-year students, we estimate the total economic benefits of international students to the UK economy to be approximately £41.9 billion over the entire period of their studies, of which £4.3 billion is generated by EU students and £37.6 billion is generated by non-EU students. 
  7. This is the third iteration of the report, the previous two studies focussed on the years 2015/16 and 2018/19. 
  8. Values are rounded to the nearest £0.1 billion. All estimates are presented in 2021/22 prices and discounted to reflect net present values. Totals may not sum due to rounding. Values per student are rounded to the nearest £1,000. Totals may not sum due to rounding. 
  • Universities UK is the collective voice of 140 universities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Its mission is to create the conditions for UK universities to be the best in the world, maximising their positive impact locally, nationally and globally. Universities UK acts on behalf of universities, represented by their heads of institution. 
  • HEPI was established in 2002 to influence the higher education debate with evidence. It is UK-wide, independent and non-partisan, and funded by organisations and higher education institutions that want to see vibrant policy discussions. 
  • Kaplan International Pathways works in partnership with leading universities to offer international students a wide range of flexible study options – from university preparation programmes to full degree programmes. We welcome tens of thousands of students from more than 100 countries to our colleges and partner universities each year. Additionally, Kaplan offers language study, higher education programs, professional training and exam preparation courses. Kaplan International Pathways is part of Kaplan Inc., a diversified global education company established over 80 years ago. Kaplan is owned by Graham Holdings Company (NYSE: GHC).
  • London Economics is one of Europe’s leading specialist economics and policy consultancies. We advise an international client base throughout Europe and beyond on a range of issues in the field of education and labour market economics, economic and financial analysis, litigation support, policy development and evaluation, business strategy, and regulatory and competition policy. Our consultants are highly qualified economists who apply a wide range of analytical tools to tackle complex problems across the full range of policy spheres. Our approach combines the use of economic theory and sophisticated quantitative methods, including the latest insights from behavioural economics, with practical know-how ranging from commonly used market research tools to advanced experimental methods at the frontier of applied social science. We are committed to providing customer service to world-class standards and take pride in our clients’ success. For more information, please visit


  1. Richard Heller says:

    Again, a report on international students with sole focus on the benefits to the UK and nothing about the role of the UK in reducing global inequalities in access to higher education. From the report, it can be seen that compared with Bangladesh for example, per head of population, students from Hong Kong are twenty times, and from Malaysia three times, more likely to come to study in the UK. It seems that ability to pay is more important than need.

    Also nothing about the extensive carbon emissions that this international trade in students produces.

    How about the sector considering ‘offsets’ both for the carbon emissions produced, and for education itself with a low cost online programme aimed at populations in need?

  2. Gavin Moodie says:

    @jim_dickinson has an interesting thread on both the philosophy and the method of costing the claimed benefits of international students starting here:

    ‘If you asked me what emotion I feel about funding the massification of UK HE by sucking family wealth out of the global south, “pride” is not the first word that comes to mind.’

    6:11 AM · May 16, 2023

  3. Does the report provide any insights into the specific industries or sectors that benefit the most from international students in the UK?

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