The value of international students for Wales

Phil Parry says we must put more emphasis on retaining international students at Universities in Wales.

International students are vital, and attracting them must be a top priority for our politicians.

This will not be a headline in the forthcoming general election but it should be.

We have some leading universities in Wales who rely to a large extent on students from abroad. The students bring vast amounts of money into the country which is spent in bars, clubs and shops within our communities.

Britain is second only to America as a destination for students from overseas and a key attraction is the language – English not Welsh. But complacency must not be allowed to set inThe numbers have plateaued and in the most recently available figures they dropped for the first time in nearly 30 years.

International students and their governments have become disconcerted by the negative publicity about whether they are welcome here and, in a fiercely competitive market, they have started to look elsewhere. Foreign students stay here for their studies and most head back home afterwards, taking with them their skills and expertise. Some however do stay on to work in the NHS or private industry. A few even create their own businesses – often high-tech – offering new jobs and paying (eventually) tax.

The Home Secretary Theresa May recently floated the idea that foreign students should be deported once they had finished their studies, if they had not found a high-paying job. For this she was slapped down by the Conservative high command and journalists were briefed in no uncertain terms that this would NOT appear in the Tory manifesto.

But the damage was done.

The plan was widely reported abroad and gave the impression that Britain (and Wales) did not welcome students from abroad. By far the biggest proportion of foreign students in Wales is from China.The percentage of Chinese students for Britain as a whole was 19.8 per cent in 2012/13, with those from India a long way behind, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa).

Universities fall over themselves to attract foreign students.

The University of South Wales (the sixth biggest in the UK with 33,500 students) offers an International Welcome Programme for students from abroad for them to make friends and re-orientate themselves. Rental income should not be overlooked either. These students might pay £950 a month for a high-quality two bedroomed flat in Cardiff. The money, which is fed into the community, is often backed by the parents or embassy.

In short, international students are a huge money spinner for Wales.

But it is an enormously competitive market and we compete with some very big global players. At the moment we are holding our head above water – indeed performing well – but the tide may be turning.

All the wrong messages are being sent out and anecdotally foreign students are uncertain whether they are welcome here – they may not encourage others to follow.

That would be a tragedy for Wales as for the rest of the United Kingdom.

Phil Parry is Editor of the investigative website Wales Eye.

9 thoughts on “The value of international students for Wales

  1. A fairly crude, generalistic article. What solutions does Phil Parry bring to the table? None, as far as I can see. Students from other nations study at Welsh universities for a wide variety of reasons. Despite Phil Parry’s condescending remark about the Welsh language, many non-Welsh students deeply appreciate the culture and language of our nation. Many take ‘Introductory’ courses in Welsh, with some advancing beyond that initial stage. You must remember that all international students are bilingual or multilingual. Hence, they naturally appreciate, and absorb, both Welsh and English languages. Further to this, the article implies that “a few even create their own businesses – often high-tech – offering new jobs and paying (eventually) tax”. Those few, and it is actually a substantial number, are often leaders in their fields – especially at post-graduate levels in science and engineering – and the jobs that they create then induce many more. Ask any university professor and they will tell you about the entrepreneurial nature of non-domiciled students. Finally, the comment that “anecdotally foreign students are uncertain whether they are welcome here”, may have some truth within, but surely there are wider questions. How welcoming are we to all non-Welsh people (students or others)? Many people are open and welcoming but the Daily Mail / UKIP ‘go home’ message also resonates. International students are the same as Welsh students. They merely have different perspectives on culture, religion, traditions, etc.

  2. In addition to the advantages listed in the article, the students raise the profile of the UK abroad and form attachments which significantly help UK exports.

  3. @Jack Rawls

    I would hate to see the world through your eyes! Constantly looking for offence were none is intended.

  4. Foreign students are of course a good thing and essential to the economy of our universities as things stand. But I have a question. We are always being told that to compete internationally the UK must “move up the value chain” and our people must be better trained and educated. So how is that compatible with training our own students to Bachelor level and then training Chinese students to PhD level? That is what we are doing, In universities like Cardiff on post-graduate courses requiring numeracy, 90+ per cent of the students can be foreign and the majority of those Chinese. It is great for our universities to be thriving export industries – but what about the natives?

  5. I thought the original intent with universities in Wales was to develop Wales’s own to compete effectively in the world – guests from afar welcome to share in what we have to offer. Now, It’s a rough and tumble world where subtle values seem to have been shunted aside in the interests of crass commercialism. Something lost on the way to success. Pity.

  6. In addition to those overseas students who study at our universities, it is also worth noting an increasing number of students who are attracted to further education colleges. The increase in overseas students at FE colleges brings with it another welcome funding stream. Colleges in Wales have been helped to enrol overseas students with inititiatives taken by Colegau Cymru and British Council. The Welsh FE sector has also taken part in Welsh Government trade missions. Joining these missions has the added value of linking trade with vocational skills. EU funded curriculum development projects and staff and student exchanges all play their part in helping the economy of Wales along with creating a greater cultural awareness and a more relevant vocational skills provision in FE colleges. Not to be forgotten is the contribution overeas FE students make to local hospitality and accommodation sectors.

  7. There was a time when education in Wales at all levels was either on a par with or better than the English equivalent. Not so now and most certainly not so for the last fifteen years.

    One has to wonder what our ‘leaders’ do all day in The Assembly?

  8. It is a lot more than 15 years since Welsh education standards were better than those in England. It was true in the 1960s but not in the 1990s. Some people blame the move to comprehensive schools but the collapse of the valleys’ economy inthe 1980s and the subsequent social problems probably played the major part. Schools reflect society more than the other way round. Unfortunately Welsh teachers took this insight to heart and many have become defeatist about what can be achieved with their charges.

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