International students are worth £28.8 billion to the UK


New Higher Education Policy Institute(HEPI) and Universities UK International (UUKi) analysis show that just one year’s intake of incoming international students is worth £28.8 billion to the UK economy.

  • In-depth analysis reveals the huge contribution of international students to the UK’s economic prosperity.
  • Every part of the UK is financially better off – on average by £390 per person – because of international students.
  • International students in Sheffield, Nottingham, London, Cardiff, Glasgow, and Newcastle are among those to deliver the greatest financial contributions.

On 9 September 2021 report, The costs and benefits of international higher education students to the UK economy, published by Universities UK International (UUKi) and the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), with research from London Economics, finds the benefits of hosting international students significantly outweighs the costs of international students, including their use of public services, which are put at £2.9 billion.

The net economic benefit of £25.9 billion is spread across every part of the UK and the report provides the results for every one of the 650 Westminster constituencies. For example, the contribution to the UK economy of international students in the 2018/19 intake resident in Sheffield Central is £290 million. Other notable results include Nottingham South (£261 million); Holborn and St Pancras (£243 million); Newcastle upon Tyne East (£240 million); East Ham (£217 million); Cambridge (£214 million); Cardiff Central (£181 million); and Glasgow Central (£171 million).

The analysis lands as international student numbers at UK universities have been hit by the uncertainty caused by Covid-19 and changes to the tuition fee structure for EU students after Brexit – EU student acceptances to undergraduate degree courses were 56% lower in early August 2021 than at the same time last year.


International first-year students enrolled in UK higher education, 2006/07 to 2018/19

The analysis focuses on the aggregate economic benefits and costs to the UK economy associated with the 272,920 new international students commencing their studies in the UK in 2018/19, taking account of the total impacts associated with these students over the entire duration of their study in the UK (adjusted for completion rates).

analysis International students are worth £28.8 billion to the UK UK


Level and mode

In terms of study mode, the vast majority of international students in the cohort (93%) were studying on a full-time basis, with only 7% of students undertaking qualifications on a part-time basis. Considering the level of study undertaken, approximately 52% (142,910) of students were undertaking taught postgraduate degrees, with a further 15,745 students undertaking postgraduate research degrees (6%). Around 114,265 students (42%) were engaged in undergraduate qualifications, of which 98,190 (36%) were undertaking first degrees and 16,075 (6%) were enrolled in other undergraduate qualifications.



International first-year students enrolled in UK higher education in 2018/19, by level and mode:

analysis2 International students are worth £28.8 billion to the UK UK



Location of study

International students in the 2018/19 cohort are spread across the entire United Kingdom (see Figure 3). In England, there were approximately 70,370 first-year students enrolled in higher education institutions based in London, with a further 29,075 attending institutions in the South East. The next most popular region in England was the West Midlands, which hosted 23,545 students. Demonstrating the spread of international students across England, there were a further 20,925 international students undertaking their studies in Yorkshire and the Humber, 20,860 in the North West, 17,995 in the East Midlands, and 12,595 in the North East. In relation to the other UK home nations, there were approximately 29,730 students attending higher education institutions in Scotland, with a further 12,335 in Wales and 3,450 in Northern Ireland.


Number of international first-year students in 2018/19 – by region

analysis3 International students are worth £28.8 billion to the UK UK


Universities UK International and HEPI are calling for more to be done to promote the UK as a welcoming, diverse and accessible study destination. This could include ensuring the success of the new Graduate route, reducing the financial barriers for international students, and supporting the improvement of English language ability.


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