Theresa May is under renewed pressure to omit international students from the immigration figures after new research claims the benefits are “10 times greater than the cost”.
The major study concluded that “almost every part” of the British economy benefits from the cash brought in by overseas students – totalling around £20bn each year.
The figures will likely be met with alarm in Downing Street as the Prime Minister becomes increasingly isolated in the Cabinet over the the policy she has championed of counting international students in the official data.
In the research – jointly published by the Higher Education Policy Institute and Kaplan International Pathways – the costs and benefits of international students are analysed by parliamentary constituencies.
After taking out the “cost” of international students, including health and social security costs, which amount to £2.3bn, the net impact of hosting international students in the UK amount to £20.3bn.
The report also shows that international students benefit all areas of the UK, not just big cities such as London.
For example, on average, overseas students make a £31.3m net economic contribution to the UK economy for each of the 650 parliamentary constituencies. This is equivalent to £310 per member of the resident population.
Out of the 20 constituencies receiving the greatest levels of economic benefit from international students, 19 are held by Labour MPs, including Sheffield Central, Manchester Central and Nottingham South.
Nick Hillman, the director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said international students bring economic benefits to the UK that are “worth 10 times the cost of hosting them”.
“Trying to persuade the Home Office that international students nearly always benefit the UK can feel like banging one’s head against a brick wall,” he added.
“In the past, they have not accepted figures on the benefits on the grounds that they ignore the costs. Our work, in contrast, includes all the potential costs and conclusively proves these are small compared to the huge benefits.”
Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott welcomed the study, adding: “As well as receiving all sorts of cultural benefits from international students, over 300 pounds a year for every UK resident is no small sum.
“Theresa May is increasingly isolated on this issue, stubbornly refusing to change her policy of including international students in the Tories’ net migration target. She is too weak to accept she is in the wrong.”
The Independent and Open Britain, a campaign group calling for a soft Brexit, are also calling on the Government to drop its “tens of thousands” immigration goal and for overseas students to be omitted from the statistics.
Last year Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, asked her independent advisers on immigration to review the costs and benefits of overseas students.
In September 2018 the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) is expected to release the findings from the Home Office on the role foreign students play in contributing to local economic growth and their impact on the provision and quality of education provided to UK students.
Welcoming this, Mr Hillman added: “We now implore ministers and civil servants as well atthe MAC to take this new evidence with the seriousness of its merits. Given the detail that we are presenting, we also urge the MAC to report earlier than the planned date of September 2018.”
And Linda Cowan, the managing director of Kaplan International Pathways, added that in recent decades Britain has been “phenomenally successful” in recruiting overseas students.
“By calculating the net impact by region and constituency, the study shows that international students bring economic benefits to regions throughout the UK,” she said.
“The challenge now is to ensure the UK provides a compelling and attractive offer as the best place to study. To be successful, we need a bold commitment from Government as it considers the Immigration Bill to show the UK welcomes international students more than ever. A key step would be to stop counting students as immigrants in net migrations statistics.”