Independent HE welcomes more robust international student data and official review of their impact in the UK

The Office for National Statistics and the Home Office have released new data showing that 97.4% of international students return home on time. This significant report, based on new exit checks conducted at the border over the past two years, follows last month’s recommendation by the Office for Statistics Regulation that student data from the international passenger survey be deemed experimental and not be used for public policy purposes.

A second report released today outlines the challenges with international student data and where improvements have been made. It reiterates that there is no evidence of a major issue of non-EU students overstaying their entitlement to stay and only 26% extended their stay for further study or work-related visas.

The government has also announced that the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) will be commissioned to undertake a detailed assessment of the impact of international students in the UK and publish a number of reports relating to international student migration.

The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, has commissioned the MAC to undertake the review by September 2018, which will assess in detail the social and economic impact of international students in the UK. Looking at both EU and non-EU students all levels of education, the review will consider:

  • the impact of tuition fees and other spending by international students on the national, regional, and local economy and on the education sector;
  • the impact their recruitment has on the provision and quality of education provided to domestic students;
  • The economic and social impacts beyond education, including on the labour market, housing, transport and other services;
  • the role students play in contributing to local economic growth.

Commenting on these major announcements, Independent HE Chief Executive, Alex Proudfoot said:

“We very much welcome the commissioning of this new review by the MAC, and would encourage them to work quickly to confirm the wide range of social and economic benefits that international students bring to the UK. Everyone who works in the sector has countless stories of how international education changes lives, but less well known is how transformative it has been for our universities and colleges, and how vital it remains for our global influence and for so many local economies. Sadly one outcome of visa policy in recent years has been to restrict the ability of the UK to change lives through education by reducing the flexibility of provision available. While applications to the most selective British universities may have continued to rise, the rich ecosystem of pathways, shorter courses and vocational programmes that international students so valued in the independent sector and further education has been damaged, and will take some time to recover.

“The exit check data released today paints a picture of a highly compliant sector which takes its responsibilities very seriously, and confirms what we already knew: that students are temporary visitors but lifelong friends of the UK, and should be welcomed as such. It is unfortunate that the previous, untested set of experimental statistics was allowed to drive Government policy to such an extent, against the strong advice of experts in the sector. This is a moment for reflection by policymakers, but it should be followed by swift action to review the extensive changes made to the student visa system over the last five years. Where an unhelpful rule or restriction was introduced specifically in response to this distorted narrative of student overstaying, it should be scrapped.

“The UK faces fierce global competition to be the destination of choice for these highly mobile students, and Government will want to do everything it can to help us succeed. Across the world the demand for high quality education continues to outstrip supply, and the UK is ideally placed to lead this growing global industry, both working in developing countries to deliver opportunities locally but also welcoming students to our shores for intensive tuition and longer educational experiences. What we have here is a great British export success, and the sooner its benefits are properly recognised, the sooner we can focus on promoting the UK’s world class academic, professional and technical education on the world stage.”


  • On 24th August 2017