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Higher Education Institutions: International Students

Volume 742: debated on Monday 11 December 2023

17. What recent assessment she has made of the potential impact of trends in the level of university applications from international students on the long-term sustainability of higher education institutions. (900573)

I am pleased that we have surpassed our target, with well over 600,000 international students. They remain an important source of income and a source of pride for our universities, and the total impact of international students was worth £37 billion across the duration of their studies.

As the Minister has just mentioned, the economic benefit of overseas students is some £37.4 billion spread between universities and economies across the UK, but applications in this UCAS admissions round are down. With increasingly stiff competition from elsewhere, UK institutions cannot simply rely on their excellent reputations, so what more can the Minister do to ensure that the UK remains an attractive place for international students to study?

As I said to the hon. Lady, we have something like 689,000 international students and our target is 600,000 a year.[Official Report, 18 December 2023, Vol. 742, c. 8MC.] We are working very closely with Sir Steve Smith. We want to diversify to a whole range of different countries to advertise ourselves to international students but, as I say, the trends are good. The hundreds of thousands of international students who are here benefit our economy and provide an important source of income for universities.

It is great to see you, Mr Speaker.

As well as contributing to Britain’s world-leading research, the financial contribution of international students is vital to UK universities, particularly at a time of rising cost pressures and real-terms fee value erosion. Any sudden changes in the number of international students coming to the UK obviously puts the higher education sector at risk. The Minister speaks of his pride, but I would like to stress the point and ensure that he puts this on record. Can he absolutely give his assurance to the House that the Government remain robust in their ambition to continue to attract 600,000 international students a year, as laid out in the international education strategy?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s question. I am absolutely committed to the target of 600,000. As I said in response to the previous question, we have surpassed that, with well over 680,000 students.[Official Report, 18 December 2023, Vol. 742, c. 8MC.] As I say, they are of benefit to our universities and our economy, and they are a very important source of income for all our higher education institutions.