British public welcomes international students, new report shows

13 March 2019

New research shows that the majority of the British public welcome international students coming to the UK and there is wide public support for international students staying on to work in Britain.

The report, International Students and the UK immigration debate, produced jointly by the think tank British Future and the representative organisation for the UK's universities, Universities UK, surveyed the public on their views about international students. Of those surveyed 75% said that international students should be allowed to stay and work in Britain after graduating from a British university.

With international students from outside the EU making up 12.8% of the UK student population (almost 300,000 students in 2012-13), the UK public recognised the significant benefits of having lots of international students coming to the UK to study. Of those surveyed 75% felt that Britain's universities were "very valuable" to the countries' cultural life.

The research demonstrated not only high levels of support for the UK higher education sector overall, but also for higher education institutions (HEIs) to enhance their international profile. Over a third of people surveyed (36%) agreed that the UK government should be more actively promoting UK universities internationally to show that the UK welcomes international students, to encourage more international students to come to the UK to study, and to create more international partnerships.

Daniel Shah, Assistant Director of the UK Higher Education International Unit remarked:

"The UK public clearly welcome international students and in fact would like to actively encourage more international students to choose to study here because of the social and cultural benefits they bring to Britain. The UK's reputation for academic excellence in higher education is what makes it one of the most popular destinations in the world for international students.

Equally, international students and international higher education partnerships are what help to create the breadth, diversity and international excellence of the UK higher education sector. The sector wants to continue to thrive and compete internationally and this clear message of support from the British public is really fantastic news for us all."

Gordon Slaven, Head of Higher Education for the British Council said:

"UK campuses are now truly multicultural places. Students here have a unique opportunity to meet and make friends with students, academics and researchers from all over the world.

This sharing of cultures and ideas benefits everyone - international students as well as local students. On a practical level, it helps equip our young people with skills to help them in the global business world. And of course, it helps to build deep friendships between the people of the UK and other countries.

It is fantastic to see that the UK public welcomes international students, and recognises the tremendous academic and cultural contribution they make to the UK. Recent surveys have also shown that international students value their time in the UK enormously."

View the report here.


Notes to Editor

1. For more information and to arrange interviews please contact: Ian Morton, Campaigns Manager, Universities UK, 020 7419 5424

2. The International Unit represents all the UK's Higher Education bodies internationally. It acts for the HE sector at Governmental and EU policy forums and enhances the UK higher education sector's ability to compete in a global market by providing intelligence on internationalisation and European policy development. The International Unit initiates and carries out high profile projects and activities, commissions research and produces publications to support and develop the UK HE sector's international activities.
The IU is part of Universities UK, and is also funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, Scottish Funding Council, Department for Employment and Learning (Northern Ireland), GuildHE, the Higher Education Academy and the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. For more information, please contact our press team at

3. The British Council is the UK's international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. We create international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and build trust between them worldwide. We work in more than 100 countries and our 7000 staff - including 2000 teachers - work with thousands of professionals and policy makers and millions of young people every year teaching English, sharing the Arts and in education and society programmes. We are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter. A publically-funded grant-in-aid provides less than a quarter of our turnover which last year was £781m.  The rest we earn from English teaching, UK exams and services which customers around the world pay for, through education and development contracts and from partnerships with other institutions, brands and companies.  All our work is in pursuit of our charitable purpose and creates prosperity and security for the UK and the countries we work in all around the world. For more information, please visit the British Council website. You can also keep in touch with the British Council through Twitter and its blog.

4. Universities UK (UUK) is the representative organisation for the UK's universities. Founded in 1918, its mission is to be the definitive voice for all universities in the UK, providing high quality leadership and support to its members to promote a successful and diverse higher education sector. With 134 members and offices in London, Cardiff and Edinburgh, it promotes the strength and success of UK universities nationally and internationally. 

About the research

Polling was conducted on behalf of British Future and Universities UK by ICM Research from 2 to 4 June 2014, and surveyed a representative sample of 2,111 adults aged 18+ in GB online. Surveys were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults. ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Further information at ICM Research.

Six discussion groups were run on behalf of British Future and Universities UK by Britain Thinks in Bristol, Nottingham and York in April 2014 and focused on people's attitudes to universities, international students and immigration.

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