The contribution of London’s international students to the UK economy

The latest iteration of The benefits and costs of international higher education students to the UK economy contains some very positive headlines for the international appeal of UK higher education. The gross economic benefit of international students rose from £31.3 billion to £41.9 billion between 2018/19 and 2021/22 according to today’s publication by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), Universities UK International, London Economics and Kaplan International Pathways. In total there has been a 40% increase in the number of international students between 2018/19 and 2021/22.

So, where does London fit in?

There has been a strong increase in the number of inbound international first-year students to London, with almost 99,000 first-year students now enrolled at London-based higher education institutions. The concentration of international students in London is twice the UK average, with one international student per approximately 90 members of the resident population, compared to a ratio of one to 180 UK-wide. London is also home to the highest concentration of international students, with 40% of all first-year students coming to study in the capital from overseas.

The net economic impact of the 2021/22 cohort of international students in London on the UK economy is £9.59 billion, equating to an average net impact in London of £131 million per constituency; that’s equivalent to £1,040 per resident. This is almost double the contribution per member of the resident population nationally.

In almost all London constituencies, international students generate a net economic impact of over £75 million. This makes sense considering London has the highest concentration of higher education institutions of any UK region. So, it is logical that these economic gains largely correlate to the density of provision.

The London constituency of Holborn and St Pancras – represented by the leader of His Majesty’s Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer – is a case in point: Housing no less than seven different universities and higher education institutions, Holborn and St Pancras alone hosts over 20,000 international students enrolled in further and higher education, thereby making Starmer’s seat number two on the list of parliamentary constituencies where international students make the greatest contribution to the UK economy.

London is, in fact, home to seven of the top 20 parliamentary constituencies generating the greatest net impact from international students. These include: West Ham (ranking 7th), Bethnal Green and Bow (10th), East Ham (11th), Bermondsey & Old Southwark (12th), Poplar and Limehouse (13th) and Brent (19th). Each of these constituencies are currently represented by Labour MPs.  Even in the outer London boroughs, which are represented by several prominent Conservative MPs, including Minister for London Paul Scully (Sutton and Cheam), international students still generate an impressive £40-75 million-worth of economic gains.

The lure of London for international students is beneficial for the UK as a whole, as many of these students and their visitors will inevitably explore other regions of the UK. Similarly, due to the wealth of attractions and events on offer in the capital, it is likely that international students and their visitors studying elsewhere in the UK will visit the capital on different occasions, thereby enhancing the flows of benefits between the regions and underscoring the importance of the capital to unleashing the country’s economic gain.

There are, of course, a range of other benefits associated with international students, such as the cultural aspects and longer-term business links, to name but a few. International students are important to the local economy and the country. The figures speak for themselves. This is why London Higher, along with Universities UK International, BUILA, UKCISA and other partners, are rebooting the #WeAreInternational campaign to show some of these benefits through the student stories and those of their local communities. Universities can get involved by sharing their own content from 23 May.

This blog has been co-written by Anna Zvagule, Senior Content and Communications Officer and Dr Diana Beech, CEO at London Higher.