THE importance of international students to the Sheffield economy was spelled out this week in the House of Commons.
They generate £120m through living in the city over a year - and 8.9% go on to get jobs in the region.
Ground-breaking research follows concerns from the University of Sheffield that international students are being discouraged from studying in the UK because the country is seen as less welcoming following changes to visa rules and political rhetoric over immigration.
Prof Sir Keith Burnett, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, said: “Both the university and our students believe the impact of this research and its nationwide implications can influence changes in policy to make sure the UK doesn’t unwittingly deter people of the talent of international students who have a great contribution to make and are such a vital part of the success of British universities.”
Sheffield University has more than 5,000 international students from 150 countries out of a population of 25,000. Hallam has more than 4,000 from 100-plus countries out of 37,000.
Their economic significance was underlined after a study developed by Oxford Economics and commissioned by the University of Sheffield was unveiled to a cross-party group of MPs hosted by Sheffield Central Labour MP Paul Blomfield and Stratford-upon-Avon Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi.
As well as the estimated net value to the city of £120m, the contribution to the wider region is put at up to £176m. At the University of Sheffield, almost half the international students are studying for STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) degrees, with many going on to apply their skills in the region or elsewhere in the UK.
International students often achieve positions of influence on their return and generate tourism revenue when they return to visit the region.
Mr Blomfield, who has campaigned on the issue for two years, and is a former general manager of Sheffield student’s union, hopes the findings will shape policy.
He said: “We know the important contribution that international students make to the diversity of our cities and to the research and innovation of our universities. This report provides the most rigorous analysis of the economic benefits to date, and shows just how much is at stake. In university towns and cities across the UK, tens of thousands of jobs depend on international students. And the benefits could be even greater if we win our share of the growing international market for higher education.
“We need to send a clear message that international students are welcome in the UK. But that needs more than words. If we are to be seen as serious, we need a change in policy. Students should be taken out of the net migration targets; the post-study work visa rules need revisiting, and a new, more collaborative relationship needs to be developed between the UK Border Agency and the higher education sector.”