Anne Blanchflower is a final year PhD student in the Kurdish Studies Centre at the Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies (IAIS). She is researching migration from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to the UK.
Over the past few weeks, you have probably seen the headlines in the newspapers about immigration levels in the UK. Many of the headlines and articles contain inflammatory rhetoric such as “influx”, “invasion” and more recently, “stop the boats!”. However, illegal migrants entering the UK via small boats only account for 3.6% of the total immigration figure. Therefore, the government plans to curb legitimate immigration too, starting with international students’ families.
At the University of Exeter, we have approximately 6,720 students from 140 countries, providing us with a wealth of experience from different cultures and backgrounds, with different perspectives on many of the global challenges we face today. A proportion of these students, particularly mature students and PGRs will have brought their partners or families with them. This is understandable, since many will be here for three to four years or longer. However, the Office of National Statistics reports that the percentage of non-EU immigrants entering the UK to study had already dropped from 47% in 2021 to 39% in 2022. This raises the question of why the government has highlighted international students as an area of concern.
Moreover, by focusing purely on the statistics, the benefits of having international students are often overlooked. In addition to the benefits mentioned in the preceding paragraph, international students add to our knowledge, innovation and entrepreneurship bases. Financially, most international students are self-funded or have received funding or scholarships from universities and other organisations (including governments) in their home country. This funding is then spent in the UK; not just on university fees and research, but on accommodation and living expenses too. Furthermore, as many of you will know, international students’ fees are normally triple those of UK students’ and in some cases, higher. Nationally, data has shown that international students admitted in the 2021/2022 academic year contributed £41.9 billion to the UK economy.
For these reasons (and many more) we should be welcoming international students onto our campuses. They add to the cultural and linguistic diversity of our country and present us with innovative research ideas and approaches from which we can all benefit. The presence of international students should be encouraged, and we should help them integrate as much as possible. To find out how we can integrate our international students better, check out the University’s international student support webpage.